7 Tips to Avoid Power Struggles with People Living with Dementia

direct care professional and senior citizen with dementia communicating

When you find yourself caring for a loved-one living with dementia, the best strategies for positive interactions may not come easily.  But you can learn! Here are some easy tips to make your visits or caregiving smoother.

  1. Prove to them that they are right.  All the time.  This is hard, especially when your loved one who is living with dementia is telling the vacation story all wrong…. Again! Rather than correcting the story, agree with them, say pleasantly “is that right?”, or “tell me more”.  If you try to correct their version, you are setting them up to be embarrassed, hurt or angry, none of which are going to make your next task easier!  Just give a side wink to other listeners and respect your loved one. Allow them to tell the story their way.  Remember, they want to be social, and you can encourage that.
  2. Check your expressions!  If your loved-one living with dementia can’t find the right words, or you can’t understand what they’re saying, do you furrow your eyebrows?  Have you look at them over the top of your eyeglasses at them like your elementary school librarian did?  Have you ever tossed back your head or rolled your eyes once you understood what they’re saying?  Sorry to be blunt, but your expressions just accused them of being stupid.  Making someone feel inferior isn’t a way to set up positive interactions. Keep you hands off your hips and your expression neutral or positive.
  3. Limit their choices. When you put a 9-page menu in front of them they will be overwhelmed. Rather, suggest two items that they’ve had before and liked, then ask which one sounds good today.  Either choice is a winner, and you are the hero for setting them up to succeed in a difficult situation!
  4. If your loved-one living with dementia refuses to do something you ask, for example getting up to use the bathroom, try asking them to do something different instead.  “I just make some coffee. Let’s go get a cup.”  Then on the way, say something light-hearted, like “oh look, a bathroom. My mother said I should never pass up an opportunity to pee!” You can also try singing a song they like and ask them to dance, do a march together, go water the flowers or empty the dishwasher – anything to get them up and moving.
  5. Don’t ask them to remember! You are not their doctor and don’t need to conduct a memory test.  Remember that word retrieval is hard and kindly provide them with the information they need to succeed.  “Hi mom, it’s your favorite daughter Deb.”  When said with a wink and a smile, she may get the joke, know who you are, and not have to struggle.
  6. Tell them things you remember doing together.  “I remember how happy I was every time we would cook together.”  They may or may not be able to add to your thoughts, but you are still visiting pleasantly.
  7. Forgive yourself when you make a mistake. Apologize, ask for forgiveness, try another approach, and learn from your mistakes.  Every tool we learn may work at some point in the dementia journey, just not today.


For more helpful tips, visit our Insights from Arthur’s page, which provides more information to empower families experiencing dementia to have positive relationships.