Dealing with the Dementia of a Loved One

by Jo Ann C. Brannock, Ph.D.

As we grow older our body shows its wear as well as our brain. This is the natural consequence of aging. It is said that 1 in 3 people over 65 will develop some form of dementia, the most common being Alzheimer’s Disease.

Dementia is a general term for varying degrees of memory behavior caused by the dying of brain cells in different parts of the brain. Different parts of the brain are related to the various dementias with corresponding chemicals. In general, tangles and plaques within the neural network of the brain are related to the cognitive decline.

All dementias might start with forgetting, such as the loss of car keys or what was just said. As dementia progresses, the person forgets the names of friends, places, and what day it is. There is decline in orientation, in which they get lost even in their own homes. Later stages include sleeping most of the day, trouble swallowing, loss of control over bladder and bowels, and the inability to communicate. Some become belligerent and aggressive. Preparing for “what-ifs” might be the task to do, but take one day at a time is my advice to the caregiver.

It was interesting to watch Tony Bennett’s last public performance and see the symptoms of dementia in action. When he was in the familiar context of performing Bennett had very little problem with singing the words of his songs. He even remembered to say Lady Gaga’s name without any prompting, but when the performance was over he showed symptoms of the disease.  Music helps the patient with dementia to not only sing, but they may also dance to music.   

In general, it is important is to keep your brain active by socializing, taking a college course, doing crossword puzzles, playing an instrument, and reading books. If you suspect yourself or someone you know to show signs of dementia, consult a medical professional. There is no cure, but there are medications to help slow the cognitive decline. Dr. William R. Shankle, a neurological specialist of Alzheimer’s Disease, states that treatment could “preserve one’s ability to do the things they enjoy.”

How does one  relate to a person with dementia?  

• Play to their strengths. Memories from the past are still remembered early in the dementias and photo albums are a great way for the individual to experience success.

• Do not try to reason or argue with them as to the exactness of what they say.

• Do not let them drive for they lack the complex brain activities and quick physical responses.

• Do not take it personally. Go with the flow and be patient.

• Provide dignity: give choices and compliment them in their decisions.

• Do not talk to others in front of them about their condition, particularly in the early stages they do know something is wrong and are embarrassed to hear about something they have no control over. 


Shankle Clinic: (949) 478-8938

UCI Health, Senior Health Center: (714) 456-7007.