Dementia – Good Caregiver – Bad Caregiver


Okay, so you're your Mom's caregiver. Or your Dad's. Or your Grandma's. And, though you're a bit scared, you're going to do your best.

Wonderful! But have you chosen the right best to do? Are your choices even possible? Let's take a look, shall we?

Your Five Best Bests:
1. You are going to fight back your Mom's dementia.

Bad choice. It would be good if you could, but I've done this for 20 years and I can tell you, you can't fight dementia. Leave that to doctors and researchers and drug companies. They have the time, the money and it's what they're supposed to do.

Good choice would be to simply have a good day together. Leave the impossible to others. You can't stop dementia and your job is caregiving.

2. You're going to keep reminding your Mom about facts so that she can stay on track today.

Bad choice. Remember, your Mom has dementia which means she can't remember. It means she does not have the supporting brain cell structure now to remember.

Trying to make her remember is like trying to make a paralyzed man walk. Leave that to divine intervention and meanwhile, try to have a relaxed and pleasant day.

3. You're going to take your Mom over to the senior center so she can see all her old friends again.

Hmm. Maybe good, but often not. People with dementia often withdraw more from social life and it usually isn't because they are depressed from isolation. It's because they are so overwhelmed by too many people, too much talking and too little ability to understand everything that it's actually upsetting.

Try it, but if it doesn't work, don't push it. It's not like taking your little one to daycare -- where eventually he'll be okay. He has brain power to grow on, your Mom is not in that position.

4. You're going to orient your Mom to time, day, date, year and place throughout the day because that will help her.

a) Good luck on that;

b) If she doesn't FEEL that it is today, this year, this place, you are unlikely to be able to persuade her and more likely to puzzle, upset and bewilder her.

Just let go of that. It's not as important as you seem to think. What IS important is that you create a day that is enjoyable, easy and stress-free for your Mom.

5. You're going to keep you Mom on her toes by asking memory questions.

Bad caregiver! Bad!

Okay, I wasn't going to do this, but you made me, okay? Like you, I wanted to save people I cared about from their disease and today I can tell you, I just made them miserable. I didn't realize that for quite a while. It took me a long time to let go of my ambitions on their behalf and settle for a more enjoyable day. I lowered my expectations and I raised our joy factor tremendously. And if right now you don't value the joy factor, that's because you're the same rigid control-freak I was. We create dual misery tracks as caregivers.

My Best Bests for You:
1. Remember, you are a caregiver, so care! It will take all your time just to do that;
2. Learn dementia;
3. Supply all info necessary to reduce stress;
4. Find fun things to do;
5. Involve your person in doing daily tasks with you, if they're willing, and don't be picky about the results.

If you aren't having fun, guaranteed your Mom is not.

Frena Gray-Davidson, Alzheimer's caregiver and author of five caregiving books, including her latest book "Alzheimer's 911: Hope, Help and Healing for Caregivers", available at Frena teaches care families and professionals to decode the language of dementia and achieve successful behavior interventions. Go to her website at and sign up for her free monthly online newsletter for all involved in dementia care. Email her at

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5 Responses

  1. I too had the idea that when my 91 year old father moved to Denver I would be able to return him to the vital outgoing father that I remembered. This idea was a set up for many painful and desperate feelings as well as exhaustion and ill health for me. The first constructive step that i was able to take along my journey as a caregiver was to let go of the idea that I had to fix my father and to begin to accept him for where he is day by day. My husband, sister and I write about our experiences as caregivers for all of our parents at Your interesting article validates many of the things that we have learned along the way.
  2. Absolutely, positively, this sums up dementia caregiving in a nutshell. Thank you, and well said. Joan Caregiver at Home
  3. Hospice care concentrates on the management of pain and the comfort of your loved one at the end of life. Hospice is available anywhere, including a nursing home. Hospice offers family support during and after the dying process.
  4. I work for hospice and I see everyday how hospice helps with emotional, physical and spiritual pain. The team is ready 24/7 to help a patient and family. It is important to get a doctor's referral so a terminally ill patient can get this wonderful help! Talk to your doctor and emphsizse how important it is for the patient and family to get this extra help! Medicaid pays for it- no charge to patient. Many people do not know this.
  5. [...] Bueno, por lo que está al médico de su mamá. O su papá. O su abuela. Y, aunque estás un poco asustado, le vamos a hacer lo mejor posible. ¡Maravilloso! ¿Pero usted ha elegido el mejor derecho a hacer? ¿Son sus opciones posible hacerlo? Echemos un vistazo, si? Sus cinco mejores mejores: 1. Lo que vas a [. . . ] URL del artículo original [...]
  6. pat
    I wish I had known about your hospice program for my mom. We had hospice for the last 9 years of her life (she was an 89 year old stroke victim in end stage chf and in the beginning stages of vascular dementia). All they did was send a nurse out a couple times a week to check her vitals and a therapist nothing (my mom couldn't walk anymore). She lived in my living room, I got up early every day to bathe and dress her, my husband took a night job so that I could keep working during the day and he/I made sure she took her medications and was always clean. As the months wore on she progressively got worse and started seeing people and things and got very angry with us. I kept asking for suggestions and support from hospice but they never gave ME any support and just kept trying different drugs to calm my mom down. During the last six weeks of her life she basically stopped eating and slept most of the time. I wanted to be with her at the end but every time I asked the hospice nurse how she was doing she kept telling me her vitals were fine and she could go on for months. Now, I am not a nurse, but I could see the rapid decline but I chose to believe what I was told. My mom died in February and the first "comforting" message I got from hospice was two days ago when I received a letter indicating that I should have started the grieving process by now and they were "there if I needed them." UGH!!!

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