Dealing with elderly people with dementia in a caring and respectful manner

In our country, more than 280,000 people have dementia in 2020. Of these, about 70 percent have Alzheimer’s disease. The person with dementia is an adult who increasingly requires additional help from others. It is important that we approach him/her with respect, because approaching an elderly person with dementia as a child rightly quickly provokes anger. So if she thinks a doll is her child, handle it wisely.

Mental decline

Forgetfulness, especially with regard to short-term memory, is a phenomenon that occurs in most people at an older age. Such forgetfulness, and also the inability to remember the names of people you know, is a normal process that usually has nothing to do with dementia.
Dementia is of a completely different order, and an increasing problem in our aging society. Alzheimer’s is the most common form of dementia. Other forms include frontotemporal dementia, vascular dementia, Lewy body dementia and dementia in Parkinson’s disease. Some types are very rare, such as Creutzfeldt-Jakob disease. There are dozens of different known causes of dementia.

Dealing with people with dementia

How can you, as a family or professional, deal with people who have dementia in the best possible way, and above all respectfully? Broadly speaking, it is important not to take from him/her what he/she can still do for himself. Staying active and busy is important. Do it together if necessary, such as washing the dishes or going shopping.

Don’t ask too much

  • Don’t keep asking questions if he/she doesn’t know anymore.
  • Don’t encourage things that no longer work.
  • Only ask one question at a time, because remembering two questions is no longer possible. Also, do not give more than one piece of advice or tasks at a time.
  • If you ask “Would you like to help with the vacuuming”, then immediately put action into words. If you wait, it will be forgotten.



People with dementia are more likely to be overloaded and tired. It’s often too much quickly. Therefore, avoid too many crowds, so do not all visit or do other activities at the same time. Too many strange faces, or too much TV is often too tiring.

Sense of time

Help demented people with their time orientation by regularly telling the time when convenient. So for example: it is now 3 o’clock, nice tea time” or, “it is now Tuesday afternoon and Mrs. Janssen always comes to help”. Perhaps such a special clock for forgetful elderly people, on which the day, date and time can be read simultaneously reading offers a solution.

Fixed structures

Regularity and fixed structures are important. It helps if the daily environment is and remains as even as possible.

  • Therefore, make sure that things (furniture, utensils) remain in their permanent, recognizable place. Don’t wallpaper in a completely different color either.
  • Also use a fixed daily schedule as much as possible, do things in the same order.
  • Do not keep changing situations, for example visiting another son or daughter over and over again at the weekend can be confusing if there are several.
  • Also, exchange as little as possible with other helpers in the house.


Avoid discussions

Do not get into a yes/no discussion with the person with dementia, because that usually leads to irritation, unrest and tension. Also avoid test situations. It is not good for self-confidence to keep asking questions such as: what are your children’s names, how old are you, or what is my name. It is important to take the feelings of the person with dementia seriously.

  • If he/she is sad about his (deceased) mother who doesn’t come home, address that sadness and don’t minimize it. Talk about it together and find out that the mother has died, for example using a photo album. And at some point try to divert attention.
  • It is of course also shocking and emotional when your old mother has a doll in her arm because she thinks it is her child, but it is also better to play along with this situation than to go against it.



People with dementia can often feel lonely. Sometimes one is endlessly occupied with a thought that cannot be let go. Then try to help the person by distracting him with something else.
Also prevent people from becoming isolated. Sometimes he/she has a tendency to withdraw due to insecurity. But it may also be that the environment is unconsciously isolating him, out of shame or for safety reasons, for example to limit the risk of running away.

Loss of decorum

When the sense of what is or is not possible becomes somewhat less, you will not achieve much by scolding. Turning a blind eye or helping unobtrusively gives better results.

Our own behavior

It is often our own feelings of shame, fear or guilt, or inability to accept that determine our behavior towards the person with dementia. Understandable feelings in themselves, but at the same time also dangerous advisors. They threaten to further reduce the already limited world of people with dementia.

Physical touch

Even if the person with dementia no longer recognizes us and does not understand our spoken language, it remains important and possible to maintain contact. The language of the body, i.e. a hand, a kiss, an arm over the shoulder, will be understood for a long time. Because the brain will understand and appreciate the warmth of physical contact until the last moment.

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