Your dementia questions answered

There can be a lot of confusion surrounding dementia. Here we answer some of the most common questions.

Caring for someone with dementia can be challenging, tiring and at times you may wonder what to do and say. Don’t worry, you are not alone! Many of the issues you’re experiencing and the questions you have are common for carers.

Here are some of the questions our dementia care experts encounter on a regular basis.

What's the difference between Alzheimer's and dementia?

Dementia (like the term cancer) is an ‘umbrella term’ used to describe the loss of memory, reduced language skills, impaired reasoning and loss of daily living skills that arise because of irreversible and progressive deterioration of brain function.

There are more than 100 different types of dementia, with Alzheimer’s disease being the most common. So in short Alzheimer’s is a type of dementia.

Should I tell my loved one that they have dementia?

It is important that you respond to the person with honesty and integrity. Therefore, if the person asks you, it’s best to explain that they have a condition called dementia that is affecting their brain and their memory, and makes it harder to communicate or do things they used to do. Unfortunately the nature of dementia means they may not retain this information and may ask again. Provide reassurance and avoid telling the person they have dementia if unprompted, as this may cause distress, anxiety or frustration.

Listen to the person carefully, watch how they are reacting to situations and try to work out any feelings they may be experiencing. By doing this you can identify the support they may need at that time.

I feel I don't know how to talk to my loved one anymore. How can I reconnect?

It’s normal to feel afraid that you no longer know how to connect with your loved one, particularly if they have reached a stage with their dementia where they seem incoherent.

The most important thing to remember is that they are still the same person. They may respond to affection and enjoy interests that have always been a part of their life. Think about the things they used to enjoy and try to engage on that subject.

Making a happy, meaningful moment is hugely beneficial to the person – even if minutes later it is forgotten.

The most important thing to remember is that they are still the same person.

My mum, who has dementia, keeps asking for my dad. Should we tell her he has died?

This is not an uncommon question asked by people with dementia and it can be very distressing to have to answer again and again.

You can avoid the direct question, for instance, by saying, “You and Dad used to go walking together, didn’t you? Let’s see if we can find some photos.” By recognising and working with feelings they have about the person you are meeting their need for comfort and working with memories that are pleasurable and meaningful.

Elderly woman with dementia with husband

I feel myself getting angry when I have to repeat myself for the hundredth time and this makes me feel guilty. What can I do?

Caring for someone with dementia can be frustrating and tiring, so it’s no wonder people feel angry and irritable from time to time. No one should sacrifice themselves entirely for someone else, nor should you feel guilty if you want some space for yourself. It’s also important that you have someone to talk to, so you can share your thoughts and concerns. Feeling guilty is common, but your health and well-being needs to be a priority.

My loved one won't let me hug them anymore. I feel as though they don't love me anymore. Why have they changed?

It can, understandably, be distressing to see a loved one distance themselves physically and emotionally from you. However, it’s important to remember that this is not a personal attack on you – it is the dementia affecting their memory. It could be that they are confused about who you are. It doesn’t mean they will never want affection from you, but you may need to judge carefully what is appropriate.

My dad won't answer to the name 'Dad' anymore. Why is this?

If your dad doesn’t recall that he is a father, or believes you are someone else, such as his wife or mother, it may seem strange that you are addressing him by the name ‘Dad’. Instead, try using his first name, or a nickname that he is used to others using.

For more information about creating meaningful engagement with people living with dementia, see Bupa Aged Care’s ‘Communicating and connecting’ publication. 

If you have some more questions you'd like to ask, you can talk to a real person on Bupa's Aged Care Support Line and get personal tips and information.

Bupa aged care support line
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