Two of the most frightening things that can happen to you: being diagnosed with dementia, and learning your loved one has been diagnosed with dementia. This is going to be a difficult time, but there is support.

Dementia is a broad category of diseases which affect cognitive ability; gradual long-term decreases in thinking and memory are the link between the diseases. Dementia means that you will have to adjust how you relate with your loved one; it does not mean the end of your relationship or of your love for each other.

Communication is different when a person has dementia; because of the changes in cognitive ability, trying to reason or use logic is generally not useful. Explain to your loved one what they can expect in the near future in short, simple sentences. Break ideas down into simple steps so they don’t have to rely on short-term memory to accomplish tasks.

Further to the idea that argument is best avoided when a person has dementia, remember that memory is impaired in dementia patients, and they may seem out of touch with reality, wishing to discuss things, places and people long past as though they are present and real. Rather than debate the chronology of memories, simply ask your loved one to elaborate; who are they talking about, where they want to go. This can be a good opportunity to spend time together.

Always remember that you’re human, and going through what can be an exceptionally difficult experience. You may cry, you may yell, you may grow frustrated and upset; this is natural, so allow yourself to feel. Don’t hesitate to speak to a therapist, counselor or other professional to help you cope; you have to take care of yourself.

You should learn about your loved one’s specific kind of dementia, as each type has different implications. Oftentimes, those affected will have lost their short term memory, but not their long term memory. Refrain from asking open-ended questions, and restrict choices to a limited number. Ask about their distant past while arranging their present to be as comfortable as possible. Laugh often with them; a good joke is something your loved one will be able to appreciate.

Ask for help when it is needed, and accept it when it is offered. Have a list of tasks and chores that friends and family can help you accomplish; the more often they are given tasks, the more likely they are to offer help again.

Patients with dementia may appreciate being in familiar surroundings, as their long-term memory is often still strong. This might lead to them wanting to stay in their home, especially if they’ve lived there for some time; highly specialized home care professionals can provide almost constant support for your loved one, and can customize their services to allow them to stay at home.

Get support. There are support groups, forums, and community services available to give you strength and comfort. You’re not alone.

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