How to Care for a Parent with Dementia

Memory Care residents participating in art therapy.

When your senior loved one receives a diagnosis of Alzheimer’s disease or dementia, you’ll experience a lot of complex feelings. These feelings are understandable, and you aren’t alone in dealing with them. 

As you take the time to process your emotions, it’s also essential to begin advocating for your loved one’s health, happiness, and safety. Keep reading to find out the next steps for dementia care after your loved one has received a diagnosis of dementia.


1. Get Support and Education Specific to Dementia

First and foremost, it’s important to get the support you need to advocate for your loved one. The more education and resources you have, the better and more confident decisions you can make as you and your senior loved one plan for the future. You can also form a peer group, which is especially important as you grapple with the changes that Alzheimers or dementia bring. 

Know That You Aren’t Alone

While having a loved one with a diagnosis of Alzheimer’s disease or dementia can feel isolating, you are most definitely not alone in this journey. The Alzheimer’s Association reports that more than 6 million Americans currently live with Alzheimer’s disease. The World Health Organization expands the reporting further, noting that approximately 55 million people around the globe currently live with some type of dementia. 

Although these numbers are startling, they illustrate that you aren’t alone in your journey helping a loved one with dementia. Often, the support you need is only an online search away.


Seek Local Support Through Dementia Caregiver Groups

You can find help in your community by looking for support groups through your local chapter of the Alzheimer’s Association, hospital, or senior living community. These support groups can prove invaluable throughout your loved one’s journey with the disease. 

You can also find additional educational resources through your city’s senior services program or through a local area agency on aging. These can be especially helpful as you research tools or support services that provide you some relief as you take on different caregiving duties. 

Finally, you can also turn to your loved one’s physician for reliable information, especially when it comes to current and future medical needs and how to plan for them. 

Learn How to Best Support Your Loved One

Early in the development of Alzheimer’s disease or dementia, people experience changes in reasoning and thinking in addition to memory loss, all of which affect their ability to maintain daily tasks and activities. Your loved one will eventually need more help in their day-to-day life. 

To best support your loved one, consider the following tips:

  • Keep a daily routine to minimize stress. Remember that a change in routine is a large source of distress for those with Alzheimer’s disease or dementia.
  • Keep appointments, events, and to-do lists in a calendar or notebook.
  • Implement a medication reminder system if your loved one must take medications daily.
  • Switch to easy-to-use, comfortable, and loose clothing with fabric fasteners or elastic instead of buttons, shoelaces, or buckles.
  • Ensure meals are served at a consistent time and place, and give your loved one enough time to eat.
  • Respect your loved one’s personal space.

2. Involve Your Loved One in Decision-Making

Thanks to early dementia diagnosis, more and more older adults are able to actively take part in their own future planning. This is a wonderful advancement that empowers newly diagnosed seniors to be a part of their future planning, helping them maintain dignity and more independence.

Involvement in Planning

It’s important to keep your loved one involved throughout their future planning process. Not only is it empowering, but it also gives them control over their future by encouraging them to share opinions and wishes. 

In the early stages of the disease, your loved one can still capably be a part of the decision-making process. This is the perfect time to review any advance directives with them as well as tidy up their will and estate plans. You can ensure the power of attorney designations are in place and that those plans have been communicated to the family.

Senior Living Community Tours

It is also wise to involve your loved one in touring senior living communities, even if they don’t need senior living services yet. This dignified approach empowers them to be in control of their future. Plus, getting them involved with senior living community tours gives them an opportunity to become familiar with a new place, which can later reduce the risk of transitional stress during a move.


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3. Evaluate for Safety

Alzheimer’s disease or dementia affects different parts of the brain. This means the disease causes more than just forgetfulness. It can also cause decreased executive function and judgment, which can make living alone challenging when it comes to safety. 

You can adapt your loved one’s personal routine and their home environment to meet the challenges of early-stage dementia. Keep the following safety factors in mind.

Transportation Safety

Start by ensuring your loved one is safe to drive. Talking about driving safety can be a more difficult conversation than you expect, so make the conversation easier by ensuring you have transportation solutions ready when they can no longer drive. These measures help your loved one maintain some independence and an active social calendar.

Summoning Assistance

Next, talk about how your loved one can call for help if they find themselves lost or confused. A medical alert system with a GPS tracking feature can be an excellent option, but a cell phone works just as well, as long as your loved one is in the habit of keeping it nearby.

Regular Check-Ins

Finally, consider how to create a daily check-in system for your loved one’s well-being. This might be daily morning and evening calls when you cue your loved one to take their medications and ask about their day, or it might be a family member stopping by daily to check on personal and house hygiene, the food in the fridge, and the pillbox.

If you or your loved one begins to feel overwhelmed with implementing these strategies all at once, take a step back. Try to implement one safety measure at a time so that you can both get used to it and make any necessary adjustments to the plan.

4. Remove Stressors

For those living with early-stage dementia, certain daily or weekly tasks can be very stressful. Keeping up with bills can seem overwhelming, for example, and food preparation three times daily may feel impossible.

Pay attention to which stressors are causing extra anxiety for your loved one, and remove those if possible. Take over paying the bills, sign your loved one up for Meals on Wheels services, water the plants when you visit weekly, or have all physician communication come to you instead of to them. These steps can decrease their anxiety, which is often a hallmark of dementia in all its forms.

5. Increase Socialization Opportunities

Adults living with early-stage Alzheimer’s disease or dementia are more likely to end up being isolated for a variety of reasons. Sometimes, they may feel self-conscious about memory loss and choose to skip their favorite social events. Other times, they may feel overstimulated when out and about with their friends. 

In either case, it is important your loved one stays connected to friends and family on a regular basis which helps maintain their health. Isolation and feelings of loneliness have been linked to rapid cognitive decline. Work with your loved one to set up regular visits with friends, drive them to their book club or church gathering, or attend a special event with them.

6. Look into Senior Living

Ensuring the health, happiness, safety, and socialization of your loved one can feel overwhelming. Fortunately, senior living offers the opportunity for your loved one to live in a community designed just for them.

Specialized Memory Care Communities

Memory care communities are carefully created to address common challenges that come with cognitive decline. Team members are accustomed to providing best practices for care, ensuring your loved one receives personalized interventions to help them feel safe and comfortable. Additionally, dementia care communities thoughtfully include environmental and architectural elements that help residents feel right at home while keeping them safe and preventing them from wandering. 

Finding the Ideal Dementia Care Community

When it’s time to look into senior living for your loved one, there are certain memory care community features you’ll want to pay close attention to. 

First, pay attention to the environment. Is it warm and welcoming? Are there cozy touches such as decorations, artwork, music, or aromatherapy? Most importantly, is the community clean, without strong odors and dirty floors? Make sure the community isn’t too clinical and feels like home for your loved one.

It’s also important to pay attention to how staff members connect with residents. You should see staff members and residents interacting in the dining room, hallways, and other common areas of the community. Look for thoughtful, helpful interactions between staff and residents—this is the type of interaction you want to ensure your loved one will have if they transition to the community.      

You’ll also want to look for delicious dining options, engaging activities, and plenty of opportunities for socialization.

The Benefits of Planning Early

Although it might seem too early to look into senior living, your loved one may find comfort in settling into a new memory care environment during the early stages of the disease. They can make friends, arrange their apartment the way they want, and get acclimated to the rhythm of the community. Settling in early helps them feel confident in their new home, which can reduce transition anxiety that typically happens if a move is attempted in the middle stages of memory disease, instead.

Is it Time for a Dementia Care Community?

A time may come when your loved one needs more care than can be provided at home. Memory care communities offer 24-hour care and support to ensure residents who have Alzheimer’s disease or dementia are safe, eating well, and taking prescribed medications.

Some signs that it may be the right time for dementia care include:

  • Changes in your senior loved one’s behavior such as forgetting to cook meals, trouble concentrating, anxiety, or agitation
  • Disorientation or confusion that puts your loved one’s physical safety at risk
  • A decline in physical health, or a lack of care for their physical appearance or grooming
  • Increased isolation or the inability of the family to provide adequate care
  • Challenging memory-related behaviors that are difficult to manage on your own

Many people worry that helping their loved one move to a memory care community means they’re giving up—but the opposite is true! Dementia care can improve your relationship with your loved one as well as reduce stress for you and for them. Additionally, your loved one will receive around-the-clock professional care from staff members who are accustomed to providing memory care services. It’s difficult to provide that level of care on your own.

One of the top concerns about senior living is the cost. For real-life answers about dementia care pricing, we recommend our free Insider’s Guide to Understanding Memory Care Pricing.


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*Originally published June 2021. Revised August 2023.

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