Dear Carol: My dad has dementia, probably Alzheimer’s, and I’m struggling with how to help him. He fights everything that I tell him would make his life easier. I know that assisted living is in his future but I’m trying to care for him in his home for now. How do I convince him that I just want to help him stay safe when his being mad at me for everything I do is making this impossible? — SL.

Dear SL: Don’t blame yourself. There are so many things about dementia care that are unlike other experiences that it takes time to learn what works and what doesn’t. Also, since every day is different, the approach you take one day may not work the next. Give yourself credit for trying.

Having said that, I can give you a few tips that may help:

  1. Your first instinct is to reason with your dad. Why wouldn’t it be? The problem is your dad’s brain is impaired and he can’t reason the way you do. So, if he’s angry, rather than trying to reason with him, validate his feelings and try to determine what’s behind his anger. He could be in pain. He could be hungry. He may be having unconformable digestive issues. He may be frightened by his continuing confusion.
  2. Think through your approach. When trying to help someone, we can inadvertently act in a patronizing manner or even treat them as we would a child. Your dad will pick up on any indication that this is behind what you are saying, and who can blame him? His impaired brain doesn’t take away his life experience or his adult status. Keep respect and dignity in the forefront of your mind as you help him and this will also show through.
  3. Tone of voice matters because this is another way your true feelings are expressed. Yes, I know you are human so if you become exasperated, try to step away for a bit and remind yourself that the disease is why he’s acting this way. He can’t help it. The same goes for your body language.
  4. Provide choices to help him feel more in control, but not too many because that can just confuse him further. If he’s getting dressed, rather than saying, “What shirt do you want to wear?” show him two shirts and say, “Which one do you feel like wearing?
  5. Think about what it’s like to be an adult and have someone choose what you eat, what you wear, even when you go to the bathroom. You’d hate it, right? Anyone would. Yet, this is the reality of adults with dementia.

This list is just a start, SL, so do some research on recognized dementia websites like the Alzheimer's Association and the Alzheimer's Foundation of America.

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Also, make it a point to join a support group either online or in person. Maybe both. Not feeling so alone with your struggle should make life better for both of you.

Carol Bradley Bursack is a veteran caregiver and an established columnist. She is also a blogger, and the author of “Minding Our Elders: Caregivers Share Their Personal Stories.” Bradley Bursack hosts a website supporting caregivers and elders at www.mindingourelders.com. She can be reached through the contact form on her website.