Maintaining close bonds

Some tips on how to maintain your relationship with a loved one who has dementia.

It is a common misconception that when someone has dementia they lose their personality. Living with dementia affects the person’s ability to recall memories, remember words or differentiate between past and present. The way they behave and how they express their emotions can change over time. However, it is important to remember that who they are as a person doesn’t change.

It can be challenging to emotionally connect with a loved one with dementia, but if you follow the right advice you will be able to maintain your relationship and see past the condition and through to the person.

Create meaningful connections

When talking to someone living with dementia, make sure the conversation is meaningful to them. Talk about things they like talking about, whether it’s sport, their family or a hobby. Avoid flippant conversations and statements as they can increase confusion and anxiety.

People with dementia may find it hard to remember recent memories but they often remember times from their youth and early adulthood. Encourage your loved one to share stories about their younger years, as reminiscing can bring back happy memories and create a sense of wellbeing.

You might also want to put together a ‘life board’ filled with meaningful items such as photographs that represent your loved one’s memories.

Encourage your loved one to share stories about their younger years

Continue to engage even if they don’t respond

Another common misconception about dementia is that if the person no longer appears to respond, then there is no point in engaging. In fact, it is even more important to support that person and engage with them. If you can make the person smile, even for a moment, the contact will have been worthwhile.

Think about what might help them ‘come alive’. This could be playing a meaningful piece of music that triggers happy memories, or watching an old film from decades ago.

Know there will be bad days

We all have bad days when we don’t feel like talking or feel irritable. Remember that this is also true for people living with dementia. If your loved one doesn’t want to chat with you, try again later.

Join their world

Don’t feel guilty that you aren’t correcting your loved one living with dementia when they say things that don’t make sense. If you  can make them feel content, relaxed and at ease, rather than anxious, sad or distressed – you are doing the best thing for them. For example, if they constantly ask for their mother who you know has passed away, rather than correcting them, you could simply respond “Tell me about your mum” and encourage them to openly express themselves.

The essence of a person does not change when they have dementia.  So how you interact with them can make all the difference to your  ability to maintain your relationship. These techniques will help you to connect with your loved one on an emotional level, and strengthen the bond you share.

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