10 Things About Dementia People Wish They'd Known Earlier

Perhaps you've heard the phrase "ignorance is bliss." It's the belief that people are happier when they're unaware of their problems.

But ignorance is not always bliss. When it comes to caring for someone with dementia, knowledge is key. It's better to be informed than to be living in ignorance.

If you provide care for someone with dementia, the suggestions below might help you navigate this uncharted territory.

Caregiver standing with older man in wheel chair
Terry Vine / Getty Images

Arguing Is a Waste of Time

It can be easy to become frustrated with someone who has dementia and argue with them to convince them of how they're wrong about something.

Not only will arguing not change their mind, but you also won't win. Instead, you will almost always increase the frustration levels of both of you. Remember that dementia affects a person's ability to use reason and logic. You can't win an argument with someone whose brain is unable to process logic.

Ignoring Symptoms Won't Make Them Go Away

It's not uncommon to spend valuable time in the early stages and symptoms of dementia hoping that the symptoms will just go away or trying to convince yourself that it is just a phase or that you're overreacting. But denial only delays diagnosis and treatment.

It can be anxiety-provoking to schedule that appointment with the doctor, there are many benefits to early detection. Getting an official diagnosis can help you understand the disease process and what to expect. Also, some treatments are more effective when starting early.

Too Many Medications Can Cause Confusion

Taking too many medications can sometimes do more harm than good, causing disorientation and memory loss. Often, a healthcare provider might order a drug for someone to treat something briefly and then that drug may be continued unintentionally for months or years. Prescriptions can add up that way.

When you go to the doctor, bring a list of all the medications your loved one is taking and ask if each one is still needed. Include all vitamins and supplements since some can interact with each other or with prescriptions. Side effects of certain medications are sometimes significant and can interfere with cognitive functioning.

It's worth asking for a thorough review of all the medications regularly to ensure that they're truly helping and not hurting your loved one.

Use Validation Techniques to Show Empathy

People living with dementia often experience a different reality than we do. They may call out repeatedly for their mother or insist that they have to go to work, even though they've been retired for many years.

Instead of being irritated and reminding your loved one that their mother passed away decades ago or that they haven't worked in 20 years, ask them to tell you about their mother. Ask them about their job. These are examples of using validation techniques to improve comfort and reduce agitation.

The ideas behind validation therapy help us to remember to adjust our focus to see things their way, rather than try unsuccessfully to have them see it from our perspective.

It's Never Too Late to Work on Improving Brain Health

Sometimes, people feel that after a loved one receives a diagnosis of dementia, it's too late to do anything about it. But brain health strategies can genuinely make a difference in functioning, whether cognition is normal or declining.

Although there is no "cure" for dementia, healthy lifestyle habits—such as eating healthily, exercising regularly, and staying mentally and socially active—can go a long way toward maintaining cognitive functioning. They can even slow down the progression of dementia symptoms.

Ask Others For Help

Caring for someone with dementia can be challenging, but you don't have to do it alone. Remember, getting help is not a luxury—it's a necessity.

Learn how to ask for (and accept) help. Seek home healthcare services, adult day care facilities, and respite care. Joining a caregiver's support group gives you the chance to share your struggles and listen to others who have been in similar situations.

If you feel like you have nowhere to turn for help, contact the Alzheimer's Association. They have a 24-hour helpline (800-272-3900), and their listening ears and knowledge of local resources can provide you with direction and practical resources for your specific situation and community.

Make Time for Yourself

The risk of caregiver burnout is real. Caregivers don't need to feel guilty or frustrated because they don't have time or energy to exercise, smile, eat right, and get lots of sleep. Most caregivers are well aware these are things they should do but just don't have the time. The last thing they need is another list of things they should be doing.

Instead, what caregivers need to remember is that doing even one little thing for themselves is important and beneficial. You may not have time to do the big things, but finding little ways to refill your tank of caregiver energy is incredibly important.

Here are practical ideas of ways you can take a break, depending on how much time you have:

  • 30 minutes: Visit with a friend.
  • 20 minutes: Read a religious passage or listen to your favorite music.
  • 10 minutes: Drink your favorite flavored coffee.
  • 5 minutes: Lock yourself in your room to physically stretch your body or call a family member who will understand.
  • 10 seconds: Take a deep breath and let it out slowly.

Focus on the Things You Can Control

Some people have said that dementia picks and chooses its battles. However, others have shared that initially, they tried to "do everything right," but as time went on, they learned that letting go of some of these pressures and expectations saved their own sanity and reduced their frustration.

Change your focus to what's important at the moment. You will rarely go wrong if you ask yourself if the momentary challenge will be important a month from now or not, and proceed accordingly.

Have the Difficult Conversations About Medical Decisions and Choices

It can, understandably, be very hard to think about an uncertain future after a dementia diagnosis. You may need some time to absorb and process the information.

However, instead of avoiding the uncomfortable conversation about medical decisions and power of attorney documents, take the time to discuss these important choices. Have that talk with your loved one who has dementia sooner rather than later (or never). Why? Not having to guess about medical decisions and personal preferences can afford you with much more peace of mind, knowing that you are honoring their choices.

Don't Take Their Negative Behavior Personally

Sometimes, you may feel your loved one is just choosing to be difficult. Or you may think they have "selective memory problems" and only forget things when it's convenient for them.

Instead, remind yourself that dementia often leads to changes in a person's personality and behavior. They're not just being stubborn or manipulative. This perspective can make it feel less personal when the day is not going well.

A Word From Verywell

As a caregiver for someone living with dementia, you may feel like your hands are full, and they very likely are. We applaud your efforts as a caregiver, and we encourage you to choose even just one of these "words from the wise" to remember as you go about your day.

Our hope is not to provide a list of overwhelming directions but rather to share the hard-earned wisdom from those who've been there and to spare you, if possible, from later saying, "If only I had known."

3 Sources
Verywell Health uses only high-quality sources, including peer-reviewed studies, to support the facts within our articles. Read our editorial process to learn more about how we fact-check and keep our content accurate, reliable, and trustworthy.
  1. National Institutes of Health. National Institute on Aging. Dementia Resources for Health Professionals. Alzheimer's Disease Diagnostic Guidelines.

  2. Erdmann A, Schnepp W. Conditions, components and outcomes of Integrative Validation Therapy in a long-term care facility for people with dementia. A qualitative evaluation study. Dementia (London). 2016(5):1184-204. doi: 10.1177/1471301214556489

  3. Rakesh G, Szabo ST, Alexopoulos GS, Zannas AS. Strategies for dementia prevention: latest evidence and implicationsTher Adv Chronic Dis. 2017;8(8-9):121–136. doi:10.1177/2040622317712442

Additional Reading
  • Alzheimer's Association. Alzheimer's and Dementia Caregiver Center.

  • University of California San Francisco. UCSF Medical Center. Coping Strategies for Vascular Dementia Caregivers.

By Esther Heerema, MSW
Esther Heerema, MSW, shares practical tips gained from working with hundreds of people whose lives are touched by Alzheimer's disease and other kinds of dementia.