How to Help a Parent with Dementia: A Caregiver’s Guide

How to Help a Parent with Dementia: A Caregiver’s Guide

Being the caregiver of an individual with dementia can be an extremely positive and rewarding experience, but it’s also challenging and demanding. Caring for your mother or father has added difficulties. This is likely to be one of the most important connections in your life, and now the roles are reversed as you find yourself caring for them.

You’re likely to feel a range of emotions during this transition. There may be some days when you think you can cope and others when you feel you can’t. In addition, there may be some parts of caring that you can find easy and others that you find difficult. These probably change from day to day, which in itself is also very challenging. You may also feel it’s not always possible to make time for yourself. However, looking after yourself is important for both you and your loved one. Staying physically and mentally healthy puts you in a better position to support your parent and allows you to have a better relationship with them.

To help you in your caregiving role, this article provides practical ways to support a parent with dementia. The aim is to help them maintain dignity and quality of life for as long as possible while keeping them safe. 

Below, we cover:

Neural Effects uses the latest evidence-based techniques to diagnose and help patients with dementia. We are located in Provo, Utah, and serve anyone in Salt Lake City or the Utah Valley area. We are in-network for most types of medical insurance. Schedule your evaluation today.

How to Help with Daily Care

Daughter caring for her mother while sitting on the bed

Patients with Alzheimer’s disease and other forms of dementia experience changes in cognitive skills, such as poor memory and difficulty concentrating, which affect their ability to perform everyday activities. During the early stages of the disease, most patients still manage daily tasks with minimal help, but as symptoms worsen, they will need more help.

Eating and Drinking

Eating a healthy and well-balanced diet can slow down the progression of the disease. However, it’s common for patients with dementia to forget what foods they like and refuse to eat or struggle to use cutlery due to mobility issues. These behaviors can happen because patients are confused, are experiencing pain due to sore gums or ill-fitting dentures, or swallowing problems. 

Caregivers can help patients by:

  • Providing a balanced diet: Patients with dementia should eat a variety of foods, including vegetables, fruit, dairy, and lean meat, while avoiding highly processed fatty, sugary, and salty foods. One example is the MIND diet — combining a traditional Mediterranean diet and the DASH diet (designed to lower high blood pressure) — which can slow down brain decline, equivalent to being 7.5 years younger. However, as the disease progresses, patients are more likely to experience loss of appetite. At this stage, adding small amounts of foods high in sugar or fat may encourage patients to eat more. 
  • Encouraging hydration during the day: Some patients may not drink enough water because they don’t realize they’re thirsty. This increases the risk of headaches, constipation, and urinary tract infections and worsens other symptoms of dementia. Carers can offer small cups of water or juice throughout the day, as well as foods with a high water content, such as soup, milkshakes, and smoothies.
  • Making mealtimes calm and comfortable: Distractions, too many food choices, and changes in depth perception can make eating difficult. It helps to serve meals in a quiet place, away from the television. Also, especially for patients in the later stages, it’s better to avoid tablecloths with colorful patterns and use white plates to make it easier for patients to see the food on their plates. Finally, allow plenty of time to eat, and eat as a family as much as possible. 
  • Encouraging independence: As symptoms progress, patients may struggle to eat by themselves, but with some adaptations, patients can feel independent for longer. For example, patients may find it easier to eat food from a bowl and use a spoon, or even eat with their hands. Items like sandwiches, chicken nuggets, and fruit are good examples of finger foods that are easy to pick up and eat. 
  • Avoiding items that are a choking hazard: As symptoms worsen, patients are more likely to choke on their food and experience weight loss. It’s better to use foods that are easy to chew and swallow, including soft foods or items cut into small bite-size pieces. 

Washing and Bathing

Bathing can be a challenging experience because patients often refuse to receive assistance with such an intimate activity. Also, they may think they don’t need a bath or find showering uncomfortable. Some patients may resist any attempts to bathe them, which can be unsafe for all involved.

Ways to help patients include:

  • Preparing the bathroom in advance: In the earlier stages, patients may only need a reminder to have a bath or a shower, but as the disease progresses, they’ll need more care options. Preparing the bathroom in advance is a good way to encourage patients with dementia to take a bath. As a caregiver, you must ensure you have everything you need, including towels, shampoo, and a bath bench, before you tell the patient it’s time for a bath. It’s also essential to monitor the water temperature, as patients may be unable to sense if it’s too hot or cold. 
  • Adapting the bathing process: Patients will react better to bathing if it’s at the same time they used to do it. For example, if patients used to shower in the morning, it can be very confusing to have a bath in the evening. Also, use bars or a bench to allow patients to move freely in and out of the shower. If patients struggle with getting wet, consider alternatives to bathing, such as using non-rinse soap products and wet towels to clean the patient. As the disease progresses, you may need to consider getting a trained nursing assistant to come to the house to bathe the patient.
  • Doing after-bath care: While helping the patient to dry, check for rashes or red areas, especially if the patient has poor mobility. Gently apply deodorant and lotion to avoid dry skin. 
  • Helping with general grooming: Patients with dementia may also need help with general grooming, such as combing their hair or cutting nails. As much as possible, continue using the toiletries they’ve used before, including toothpaste, makeup, and perfume. The familiar scents will help patients remember these tasks more easily.  

Dressing and Grooming

Helping a parent with dementia maintain their appearance is a good way to promote self-esteem, even in the later stages of the disease. 

  • Make it easy to pick clothes: Remove all unnecessary clothes from the patient’s wardrobe, as it can be overwhelming to choose what to wear if there are too many options. 
  • Use items that are easy to put on: All items available should be comfortable, loose-fitting, and easy to put on. For example, velcro is easier to do than buttons or zippers. 
  • Allow plenty of time to get dressed: Don’t rush the patient, as this can cause anxiety and frustration. 
  • Be flexible: Patients may want to wear their favorite shirt every day. In this case, buy duplicates or similar items. Don’t criticize if the outfit is mismatched; the most important thing is ensuring patients maintain their hygiene and wear clean clothes. 
  • Help patients get dressed when appropriate: During the early stages of the disease, patients can still get dressed alone. However, as the signs of dementia progress, patients will need more help. The patient may not remember how to get dressed or feel overwhelmed by all the choices. 


Many patients with dementia need medication. It is vital to understand what they’re taking and when to take it. Caregivers may need to design a safe way to manage prescription and over-the-counter medications to avoid medication-related problems, such as missing doses or accidental ingestion. 

To make sure your loved one takes the correct medication:

  • Coordinate with all healthcare providers: Patients with dementia are often under the care of more than one doctor. Caregivers need to make sure that all care providers know about all prescriptions and over-the-counter drugs that the patient is taking, including herbal products and vitamin supplements. This is important to check for drug interactions and assess possible side effects.
  • Make sure patients take medication as directed: One of the main roles of caregivers is to ensure patients take their medication as directed. If any side effects start to develop, contact the patient’s doctor. During the early stages, a gentle reminder may be all the patients need, but eventually, caregivers will need to get more involved. We suggest using a pill box or keeping a daily list and following the same routine every day.  
  • Find alternatives, if needed: If swallowing becomes a problem, ask the doctor for an alternative. Some prescription drugs are also available in liquid form or can be crushed and mixed with food. 
  • Keep the patient safe: You may need to consider placing prescription drugs in a locked drawer to avoid accidental overdoses. Throw away meds that have expired or that are no longer being used.

Sleep Problems

Sleep disturbances are common in patients with dementia, including drowsiness during the day or waking up frequently during the night. Many patients with dementia also experience a phenomenon in the evening called sundowning. They may feel confused, agitated, anxious, and aggressive before bed and struggle to fall asleep.

To promote better sleep, make sure patients:

  • Don’t have any underlying medical conditions: Many medical conditions can make it harder for patients to have a good night’s sleep, but the proper treatment can help patients. 
  • Follow a strict routine: Going to bed and getting up at the same time every day can help regulate the patient’s body clock. In addition, engaging in regular activities every day — such as going for a walk after lunch — provides a routine that helps patients make sense of time. Keeping a routine before going to bed encourages feelings of sleepiness. This could include, for example, changing clothes for bed, using the toilet to brush teeth, and going into the bedroom to listen to quiet music.
  • Take advantage of natural daylight: Patients should go outside during the day, as natural daylight can help set the person’s body clock. This way, patients are more likely to feel sleepy in the evening. 
  • Engage in exciting activities during the day: Being active during the day not only helps with fitness and reduces feelings of stress and anxiety but also helps patients fall asleep more easily at night. 
  • Avoid stimulants in the evening: Our recommendation is to avoid caffeinated and alcoholic drinks a few hours before bedtime. Caffeine is a stimulant and also makes the person go to the toilet more often. Although alcohol might make it easier to fall asleep, sleep quality is poorer, and patients are more likely to wake up during the night. 
  • Aren’t hungry or too full: Ideally, patients should have a light meal in the evening. Being hungry or too full makes it harder to fall asleep. 
  • Avoid screen time in the evening: The blue light from TVs, computers, tablets, and mobile phones can affect the patient’s body clock and make it harder to sleep. If you can, try to avoid the use of screens at the end of the day to help patients sleep more easily. 
  • Have a comfortable bedroom: The bedroom should be cool, quiet, and dark. For patients who struggle in the dark, you can use a nightlight or leave the bathroom light on. It’s also important to declutter the bedroom and remove any loose items that may increase the risk of falls.
  • Don’t sleep too much during the day: Caregivers should discourage naps during the day. If patients need them, we advise limiting them to 20–30 minutes early in the afternoon.

If the patient still wakes up during the night, you need to stay calm and avoid arguing. Gently ask them what they need. They may need the toilet or the bedroom temperature adjusted. Remind them it’s time to sleep and guide them back to bed. You need sleep, too; if waking up at night happens frequently, ask other family caregivers or friends to alternate nights with you. 

Lifestyle Choices

For patients with dementia, lifestyle choices and daily habits can have a strong impact on how they feel. As a caregiver, one of your roles is to guide your loved one to make the right lifestyle choices, such as engaging in: 

  • Regular exercise: One of the best things for your loved one to do is exercise regularly. Exercise improves fitness and mobility and helps patients cope with cognitive symptoms such as memory loss or difficulty concentrating. Patients benefit the most from physical activity during the early stages of the disease, but it’s never too late to start. Ideally, exercise should include a few minutes of something vigorous enough to increase heart rate to promote blood flow to the brain, combined with some flexibility and balance exercises. Patients should stay active for at least 30 minutes daily, five days a week. In some areas, there are local services with specific activities tailored for patients with dementia, such as dementia-friendly swimming and yoga classes. 
  • Activities to challenge the brain: Staying mentally active and engaging in brain-challenging activities can also help relieve the symptoms of dementia and provide memory care. This can be anything that patients enjoy doing without getting frustrated, from learning to play a new musical instrument to rekindling an old hobby. The aim is to help them think quickly, recall information, or make decisions.
  • Social interactions: If patients with dementia isolate themselves at home and avoid social interactions with others, they’re more likely to experience a faster cognitive decline and may develop anxiety and depression. Ensure that your loved one interacts with friends and other family members regularly. Patients may join an art club, volunteer at a local charity, or go out for a coffee with friends. Even a regular chat over the phone can help those struggling with mobility issues. 

General Advice

Caregiver and patient working on a project at the kitchen table

Whatever you’re trying to help your loved one with, here are some general advice tips to help you in your eldercare role:

  • Keep a routine: Dementia patients usually respond well to predictability. Knowing what will happen during the day helps patients stay calm, focus on their daily activities, and improve their mood. This includes, for example, sleeping and waking up at the same time every day or eating meals at regular times. 
  • Be patient: Patients with dementia may come across as stubborn and ask questions, but it’s only because they need more time to process information. Focus on one task at a time, and guide them as much as they need it. Never criticize or get angry if they forget something or say something that doesn’t make sense. 
  • Help them connect: Patients with dementia can struggle to express their feelings. Always make eye contact and call them by name. Don’t use a baby voice or talk about them in front of others like they’re not there.
  • Give them choices: Many patients resent that choices are taken away. As much as possible, let them choose what they want, such as what to wear, what to eat at a restaurant, or where to go for a walk. 
  • Let them help: Helping with simple tasks at home is a great way to interact with your loved one and give them a sense of purpose. This may be setting the table, folding laundry, or checking the mail. 

How to Keep Your Home Safe

Senior woman in wheelchair with doctor

Part of your role as a caregiver looking after a parent with dementia is to ensure that their home is a safe place, especially if they live alone. The best way to identify what changes need to be made is by walking through the house and looking for potential problems and ways to make improvements. If possible, involve the patient in any decision-making needed.

  • Outside: To help your loved one with dementia recognize their home, avoid making big changes outside, such as painting the door a different color. A large door number may also be helpful. If you have stairs, handrails are a good way to prevent falls. Also, ensure you have adequate lighting when they arrive home in the dark. You may also want to install a key safe with a combination code in case family members or even emergency services need urgent access inside.
  • Kitchen: Kitchens can be a hazardous place for patients with dementia. It helps to keep frequently used items on the counter, such as cups, coffee, and tea. In addition, patients may benefit from specialized equipment to make their lives easier, such as jar opening tools, adapted cutlery, and non-slip chopping boards. The stove, in particular, can be a source of injuries. You can install gas safety valves for gas ovens and stoves to ensure that the patient doesn’t accidentally leave the gas switch on. Ensure cleaning products are stored in a locked cupboard to avoid accidental ingestion. 
  • Living rooms: Living rooms should be relaxing and cozy. Assistive furniture can help patients sit down and stand up more easily. It’s advisable to remove loose items, such as rugs and small furniture items, and keep the floor free of clutter. Patients may use a personal alarm they can press if they fall, usually worn on a lanyard.
  • Bedroom: To help with sleep, fit heavy curtains or blackout blinds in the bedroom. It’s also important to choose bedding that is appropriate for the weather. If your loved one is too hot or cold, they will likely struggle to sleep. Use a clock with large numbers that are easy to read. For patients experiencing incontinence, it may be advisable to fit a waterproof mattress cover or use incontinence pads.
  • Bathroom: In the bathroom, it may help to keep the toilet lid up and remove any toilet mats to avoid falls. You can install rails to help patients move more readily and use scald-prevention plugs to prevent burns from hot water.
  • Additional advice: To reduce the risk of falls, ensure that there’s good lighting throughout the home. You may also want to use sensor lights to help when patients need to go to the toilet at night. Check fire alarms and carbon monoxide detectors regularly. Use timers for lights and heating systems to turn them on and off automatically. 

How to Deal with Changes in Behavior

As symptoms progress during the various stages of dementia, you may notice changes in behavior, including repetitive behavior, agitation, and aggression. For some patients, these changes occur gradually and are difficult to recognize initially. For others, the changes can be sudden and dramatic. This is often one of the most difficult aspects of living with dementia, both for the patient and those around them, but it’s important to remember that the patient isn’t trying to be difficult on purpose. 

Ways to support patients in coping with behavior changes include:

  • Try to act calmly. Your aging parent will react to your behavior, so if you’re frustrated or angry, it will make things worse. If you feel yourself getting annoyed, walk away and give yourself some time to calm down.
  • If they are repeating questions, try to be patient. They may not realize they’re repeating themselves and feel stressed if you’re impatient. Sometimes, distracting the patient with another activity, such as going for a walk or enjoying a snack, helps. 
  • If your loved one is prone to wandering off, it’s advisable to develop a plan, including when to contact neighbors and the police. Ensure the patient carries some form of identification, including your phone number and address. 
  • If your parent behaves rudely towards others, don’t attempt to argue or correct the behavior. Remind them gently that being rude is not acceptable and try to distract their attention. 
  • Consider whether the behavior is a problem. For example, if your loved one starts talking to strangers, that’s fine as long as they’re polite and the person they’re meeting is happy to speak to them.
  • You may need extra support if your parent starts showing signs of aggression. It’s important to keep yourself and other members of the family safe. Also, try not to feel resentful towards them. Even if the aggression seems aimed at you, it’s a consequence of the disease, and it doesn’t mean that their feelings have changed. Your doctor may be able to provide a referral for your parent to see a psychiatrist if needed. 

How to Deal with Changes in Communication

A caregiver and a patient are working on an art project

Patients with dementia often experience problems with communication and language. Common symptoms include having trouble finding the right words or difficulty following what’s being said in a conversation. 

To help make communication easier, you can:

  • Be caring and patient: Patients with dementia may not understand everything being said, but they know the tone of voice. It’s important to speak respectfully and allow plenty of time for a response. Keep sentences short and simple, focusing on one idea at a time. 
  • Use body language: It’s helpful to use hand gestures and facial expressions to be understood. If your loved one enjoys being touched, use hugs and cuddles to show affection and warmth. If you’re explaining how something works, pointing or demonstrating can help. 

  • Use the right environment: If you have something important to discuss, make sure there are no distracting noises, such as TV or radio. Don’t move around too much while you’re talking; it’s easier to focus on your words if you’re standing still. Keep a consistent approach for the entire family; it’s much less confusing for the patient with dementia if everyone uses the same communication style. 
  • Avoid arguing: Don’t start an argument with your loved one and try not to order the patient around or use a condescending tone. 

How to Deal with Incontinence

Patients with dementia often experience problems with going to the toilet, especially towards the late stages of the disease. This problem can be caused by urinary tract infections, constipation, dehydration, and even some medication. Sometimes, the patient will forget they need the toilet or where the bathroom is located. 

Urinary incontinence and bowel incontinence can be difficult to deal with for both patients and caregivers.  Although it may be hard, it’s important to treat the patient with dignity and privacy. Try to retain a sense of humor (if the patient appreciates it) and remember it’s not the patient’s fault.

Ways to help patients deal with incontinence include:

  • Understanding that accidents happen: Bladder and bowel accidents can be embarrassing. As a caregiver, you need to find ways to preserve your loved one’s dignity and privacy. Never make the patient feel guilty. You can say, “Anyone can have an accident,” instead of “you wet yourself”. 
  • Encouraging the patient to tell you when they need the toilet: During the early stages, patients can use the toilet without issues, but as symptoms progress, they will need help. Learn to read non-verbal cues, such as restlessness, making strange faces, or going suddenly quiet. These may be clues that they need the toilet. Some patients respond well to being reminded on a regular schedule to go to the bathroom. Give patients plenty of time to sit on the toilet. If the person has difficulty urinating, run water in the sink or give them something to drink.
  • Making it easy and safe to go to the toilet: Always keep the bathroom door open or place a picture of a toilet on the door so it’s easy to find. Patients with mobility issues may benefit from grab bars on both sides of the toilet and night lights to illuminate the way from the bedroom to the bathroom. To reduce the risk of falls, remove all loose items from the bathroom. As the disease progresses, patients will need more help, including help with wiping and washing sensitive areas. 
  • Monitoring ingestion of fluids: Encourage fluid intake during the day, but limit just before bedtime. Also, reduce consumption of drinks that stimulate urination, such as caffeinated coffee and tea.  

How to Help a Parent Who Refuses Care

One of the most challenging aspects of caring for a parent with dementia is when they refuse care, which is often accompanied by denial of their dementia diagnosis. Patients may not understand what’s happening and feel like they’re being forced into something they don’t want or need. The problem is that refusing medication or personal care will inevitably lead to a decline in the patient’s physical and cognitive health. 

Ways to help patients accept the care they need include:

  • Talking to the patient calmly: If the patient is skeptical about their diagnosis of dementia, explain it to them in a kind and supportive way. Use some of the symptoms they may have already complained about, such as memory lapses or problems finding the right word in a conversation. Try to see it from the patient’s point of view; going from an independent person to needing care can be a challenging transition. 
  • Understanding why they refuse care: Ask the patient why they’re refusing care. Sometimes, it’s because they don’t want to see themselves as a burden to you. 
  • Introducing care gradually: If the patient refuses medical care, introducing some in-home care to assist with household chores can be a good starting point. If a patient refuses to see their doctor, look for possible alternatives. If it’s not urgent, maybe it can wait a few days while you try to understand why they don’t want to receive medical care.
  • Letting them decide: Always explain the care they’re receiving and give them time to process that information. As much as possible, let them choose. They may be refusing care because all the decisions are being taken away. For example, if your loved one is in the early stages of the disease, let them decide what kind of home help they need and who they let into their home. 
  • Arranging for care, even if the patient continues to refuse: If the patient continues to refuse, there may be a time when you need to arrange for care anyway. In the later stages of the disease, this may be because they no longer can make such decisions for themselves. The best option in this case is to discuss with their doctor, especially if you feel that the patient can hurt themselves.

How to Care For a Loved One with Dementia From a Distance

Caring for a patient with dementia when you do not live nearby can be challenging. You’re not able to visit regularly or respond to medical issues quickly. Nevertheless, you can still play an important part in your parent’s life as a caregiver. Make sure you gather all pertinent information and keep it handy. This may include contact information for doctors and other healthcare providers, as well as financial and legal documents you may need in the future.

Looking After Patients Living in a Care Facility

If your parent lives in a senior living care facility, you can still support them even if you can’t visit regularly.

  • Find out about the patient’s routine, including mealtimes, bedtime, and activities so that you can contact them at the most suitable time. 
  • Ask the facility to keep you informed about what activities the patient is taking part in; this will give you something to talk about when you call.
  • Discuss how you would like to stay informed about your parent’s health and well-being while they’re staying at the facility.
  • If you have friends or family members living nearby, ask them to visit your loved one if they can.
  • When you visit, re-assess the conditions at the facility to make sure you’re still satisfied with their service. Look for changes in personal hygiene, general tidiness in the bedroom, and any other aspects that may indicate that they’re not providing the care that your parent deserves.

Looking After Patients Living at Home

During the early stages of the disease, patients may prefer to continue living independently in their own homes. If that’s the case, making simple adjustments to ensure your parent is safe and supported can make things easier for you. 

  • Arrange for someone to help with housekeeping, meals, and general daily chores.
  • If your loved one needs medication, find the best way to remind them. This can be noted on their phone or a list in the kitchen.
  • Go over their home and remove any trip hazards, such as loose rugs, trailing cables, and clutter. 
  • Consider what home adaptations may be useful, such as grab rails in the bathroom or a lift-assisted chair. This may also include assistive technology, such as a dementia clock or voice-activated devices.
  • Install a key safe outside in case emergency services need to access the house quickly.
  • Make sure there’s a list of important phone numbers that’s easily accessible.
  • Find a way to manage their bills for them.
  • If needed, find a way to organize transport for the hospital and appointments.
  • Call them by phone or video call regularly.

Looking After Yourself 

If you are caring for a parent with dementia from a distance, you may feel that you’re not doing enough for them or feel guilty that you don’t live closer. Instead of focusing on the negative aspects, consider what you can do for your loved one. 

Even at a distance, you can show them how much you care by calling them regularly and visiting as often as possible. Also, don’t be afraid to ask for help from other family members and friends. Caring for a patient with dementia can be a joint activity, and when different people can help, it’s easier for everyone.

How to Plan for the Future

A doctor meets with their patient

Dementia is a neurodegenerative disorder, and symptoms will inevitably get worse. For this reason, it is vital to start planning for the future while the patient is still in the early stages of the disease. This way, caregivers can ensure the patient’s wishes are fulfilled precisely how they want. 

Long-Term Dementia Care

One of the aspects that caregivers need to discuss with patients is the issue of moving into a long-term care facility. Look at the various options available in your area, from assisted living facilities to respite care, and find out what services are available. Make sure the patient is involved in these decisions. 

Financial and Legal Considerations

A time will come when your parent will no longer be able to make sound financial decisions. It’s important to discuss the patient’s wishes early on. This may include:

  • Making a will. Ideally, it would help if you used a professional legal adviser who can attest to mental capacity to ensure that the will won’t be contested.
  • Nominate a lasting Power of Attorney (POA) for financial and health/medical/welfare decisions.
  • Decide on healthcare directives, such as a living will, and ensure they’re included in the patient’s medical files.
  • Get permission in advance to talk to the patient’s doctor and lawyer. 

End-of-life Care

This is not an easy topic to discuss, but planning end-of-life care early on can help ensure that patients are treated how they wish. You need to talk with the patient about potential treatments at the hospital and their preferences for maintaining quality of life. Make sure you have clear instructions as to what the patient wants throughout the later stages of their life. 

How to Find the Best Treatment for Your Loved One

Seniors exercising with weights

At the moment, there is no cure for dementia. Any treatments available — including prescription drugs and various forms of therapy — are designed to slow down the progression of symptoms and allow the patient to maintain independence for longer. As symptoms progress, the goal of these interventions changes to ensure the patient is comfortable and maintaining the highest possible quality of life.

Selecting the optimal treatment for your loved one can be daunting. However, research supports the effectiveness of a dual approach involving physical exercise followed by cognitive therapy. 

This method is beneficial because physical activity stimulates the production of brain-derived neurotrophic factor (BDNF), a crucial brain chemical. BDNF enhances the brain’s adaptability, making it more responsive to cognitive exercises conducted soon after physical activity. This sequence maximizes the therapeutic benefits for patients.

Senior woman exercises on a stationary bike.

At our clinic, Neural Effects, we use a combination of cognitive stimulation therapy (CST) and aerobic exercise to help delay the progression of symptoms for patients with dementia. Treatment starts with a neuropsychological exam (also called a neurocognitive evaluation) to find out how dementia has affected the patient’s cognitive skills. This exam includes tests to assess memory, attention, and other cognitive skills, and it takes about 2–2.5 hours to complete. 

Note: All patients need to complete this exam, even if they already have a diagnosis of dementia. It allows our therapists to tailor treatment to the patient’s needs and establishes a baseline to reference over time.

After this assessment, every patient gets a personalized care plan developed by our therapists, even if they decide not to continue treatment with us. The CCP includes the following:

  • Diagnosis
  • Results from the assessment
  • Risk factors for progression and discussion of how the disease is likely to progress
  • Lifestyle changes that may help the patient
  • Suggestions for family involvement
  • Recommended treatment options

Patients can then start therapy sessions, which include two one-hour sessions per week for seven weeks.

Each session starts with 10–15 minutes of aerobic exercise, usually done on a stationary bike or treadmill. The patient’s safety is paramount to us, and our therapists are trained to adapt the exercises in intensity and duration to ensure patients don’t get injured. 

After exercise, patients play various cognitive games and activities to stimulate thinking and memory, including discussing past and present events, word games, puzzles, music, and practical activities. The sessions are run by two facilitators working with a small group of up to six patients. These facilitators guide the discussions and encourage patients to socialize with each other. 

As a caregiver, you are welcome to join the first session to better understand our treatment approach. This initial meeting allows you to learn how to support your parent at home by familiarizing yourself with the therapeutic games we use. Additionally, you will consult with one of our therapists to explore lifestyle adjustments that could benefit the patient. You’ll also receive resources, such as local support group recommendations for both you and your parent. Our staff, trained to assist caregivers, are available to address any questions you might have about the diagnosis or treatment.

We are located in Provo, Utah, and serve anyone in Salt Lake City or the Utah Valley area. We are in-network for most types of medical insurance. Schedule your evaluation today.

How to Take Care of Yourself

Caring for a parent with dementia takes time and effort. It can also feel rather lonely and frustrating, especially if you’re doing it full-time and without the support of other family members. To ensure that you stay healthy, it’s important to find time to take care of yourself. 

Here are a few tips to consider:

Dealing with Difficult Feelings

Caring for a parent with dementia can be exhausting. Remember that even if you’re experiencing negative feelings towards your parent, it does not mean you’re a bad person. Being aware of your feelings makes it easier to deal with them. For example, if you feel frustrated or angry, is it because you’re trying to do too much? Or maybe you’re not getting the help you need? 

You can only do so much. Everyone who cares for a patient with dementia needs help at some point. Focus on what you can do and accept that you need support with some things. Above all, don’t compare yourself to other caregivers. It may seem they’re coping better than you, but you don’t know their feelings or how much help they have. 

If you’re struggling with your emotions, talk to a psychotherapist or at least a trusted friend. This can help you feel less isolated and stressed. If you neglect your own emotions, it will likely worsen the situation and adversely affect the person you’re caring for.

Set Your Priorities

Caregivers need to do many different things at the same time. This can be hard to manage, and lead you to feel physically and mentally exhausted. Many caregivers feel torn between their responsibilities. For example, when caring for the patient, they think that they should be cleaning the house, and when they’re spending time with the rest of the family, they feel that they need to support their loved one. 

You may want to manage everything, but this is not always possible. Focus on what you need to do and leave what is less important. Ask other family members to help you with some tasks to take some pressure off you. More importantly, don’t be hard on yourself about the things you can’t manage or feel guilty about asking your family members for help.

Remember the Positives

While it’s not always easy, try to focus on the positive aspects of caring for your parent. Even a simple joke you share with them can make their day. Consider that you’re helping them when they most need it, even if they may not always seem to know or appreciate it. 

Ask for Help

Never be afraid to ask for help and support if you need it. Your friends and family may not offer help because they don’t know what they can do, but if you suggest specific ways, they’re more likely to help. Always let people know how valuable their support is and how much it helps you. If you don’t have friends or family members who can help, or your loved one needs a specific type of support they can’t provide, find out whether there are services in your local area that can help.

Maintain Physical Health

You must remember that staying physically healthy helps you maintain your mental health. It’s not always easy, but try to find time to look after yourself by:

  • Eating a well-balanced diet.
  • Exercising regularly.
  • Getting enough sleep. We understand that it can be difficult to sleep well if your loved one gets up at night. Try to share getting up with another family member and follow our recommendations to help your loved one sleep better (see above).
  • Keeping in touch with friends. Seeing familiar faces is very important for your mental health and your overall resilience as a carer.
  • Spending some time following your hobbies and interests.
  • Visiting your doctor regularly, especially if you feel depressed or are struggling to cope.

Take Regular Breaks

You may feel guilty about wanting to spend time alone, but taking regular breaks from caring is important for your well-being. You may be tempted to use that time to catch up on housework, but make sure you have some “me time.” Go out with a friend for coffee, enjoy a hobby, or do something else for yourself. Regular breaks help you be a better caregiver. Time apart can also be good for both you and the person you are caring for to help ease any tensions or frustrations. 

Coping with Changes

As dementia progresses, your loved one’s abilities change. You must adapt and learn new ways to cope with these changes. It can feel like starting from scratch, learning to support the person you care for. This process is more straightforward if you focus on what the patient can still do. 

Moving the Person Into a Care Home

As symptoms worsen, it may get to a point where you consider moving the patient into a care facility. You may worry about how your relationship will be affected, the type of care they’ll receive, and whether they’ll be able to settle in.

It’s not uncommon for caregivers to feel guilty about this decision because they feel they should have been able to cope for longer. Remember to do what you think is best for the person you care for. Dementia is a progressive condition, and a care facility may be the best place for your loved one to receive the care they need. 

Also, even if your parent moves into a care facility, it doesn’t mean they don’t need you anymore. You can still visit as often as you want. Some caregivers find this new arrangement improves their relationship with their parents. This way, they can focus on the positive memories they share rather than on stressful day-to-day tasks.

When Your Caring Role Ends

Sadly, dementia is a life-limiting illness. There will be a time when your role as a caregiver comes to an end. At this stage, you need to grieve the loss of your loved one, but you also need to readjust to not being a caregiver. Some caregivers find it helpful to think about the future ahead of time, including what they may do once they no longer have a caring role. Above all, you need to take time to think about yourself and possibly talk to someone about your feelings.