When a dementia patient inquiries about a family member who has passed away but still believes them to be alive, it's essential to respond with empathy and understanding. Here are some tips on how to handle such situations with and sensitivity:

Compassionately Responding

  • Respond with affection and reassurance: People with dementia often feel confused, anxious, and unsure of themselves. Avoid trying to convince them that they are wrong and stay focused on the feelings they are demonstrating. Respond with verbal and physical expressions of comfort, support, and reassurance.
  • Remind the person who you are if he or she doesn't remember: Gently remind the person of your relationship to them without saying, “Don't you remember?” This can help them feel more secure and grounded in the present moment.
  • Encourage a two-way conversation for as long as possible: Try to engage the person in a conversation about their memories or other topics that they enjoy. This can help distract them from their fixation on the deceased family member and provide a more positive and engaging experience.
  • Try distracting the person with an activity: If you are having trouble communicating with words, try engaging the person in an activity that they enjoy, such as looking at a familiar book or photo album. This can help redirect their attention and provide a more positive and engaging experience.
  • Avoid arguing or correcting the person: Instead of correcting the person with dementia if they make a mistake or forget something, ask family and friends to respond to the feelings expressed or talk about something different. This can help maintain a positive and supportive environment.
  • Establish whether or not they are feeling unhappy or lonely: A person with dementia may want to talk to or communicate with the deceased family member because they are feeling unhappy or lonely. Try to address these underlying emotions by providing comfort, companionship, and engaging activities.
  • Seek support from other family members and : Caring for a person with dementia can be challenging, and it is essential to have a support system in place. Reach out to other family members, friends, or support groups for assistance and guidance.
  • Take care of yourself: Caring for a person with dementia can be emotionally and physically draining. Make sure to prioritize your own well-being by getting enough rest, eating well, and seeking support when needed.

Effective Ways to Redirect

Here are some effective ways to redirect a dementia patient's focus when they are fixated on a deceased family member:

  • Introduce a meaningful activity: Engaging the person in a familiar and enjoyable activity can help shift their focus away from the fixation. For example, looking at old photo albums or listening to their favorite music can be helpful.
  • Keep it simple: Use simple and clear language when redirecting the person's attention. Complex explanations or reasoning may only cause more confusion and frustration.
  • Use bridge phrases: Bridge phrases are a way to create a new focus away from a negative thought or behavior. For example, you can say, “Let's look at that old photo album again. I want to see that picture of the two of you in look-alike poodle skirts”.
  • Watch nonverbal cues: Pay attention to the person's nonverbal cues, such as body language and facial expressions. This can help you understand if your redirection is working or if you need to try a different approach.
  • Focus on what really matters: Instead of trying to correct the person's fixation, focus on their emotions and well-being. Make sure they feel cared for and listened to, and ensure they are in a safe situation.
  • Use touch to calm: If the person is comfortable with it, gentle touch on the arm, shoulder, or hand can be comforting and grounding.
  • Don't try to correct: Avoid correcting the person or explaining why they can't talk to their deceased family member. This may only cause more confusion and frustration.

Communication Strategies

Communicating with a dementia patient who is fixated on a deceased family member can be challenging. Here are some strategies that may help:

  • Reminisce about joyful memories: Try to engage the patient in a conversation about the time they spent with their deceased friend or relative. Bring up a happy memory and talk about it.
  • Respond with affection and reassurance: People with dementia often feel confused, anxious, and unsure of themselves. Avoid trying to convince them that they are wrong. Instead, stay focused on the feelings they are demonstrating and respond with verbal and physical expressions of comfort and support.
  • Use redirection: Shift the patient's attention away from the fixation on the deceased family member to a more pleasant emotion or situation. This can be done by introducing a meaningful activity, keeping the conversation simple, or using bridge phrases to put the focus back on the person.
  • Be prepared for different reactions: Dementia patients may express grief, cry, or be oblivious to the death of a close family member. Brace yourself for these reactions and respond with patience and understanding.
  • Help them keep active and busy: If the person who died was the main caregiver of the dementia patient, it can lead to lots of changes in their life. They may need professional carers for the first time or have new people around them providing care. They are likely to need lots of support, guidance, and assistance to adjust to these changes.
  • Consider attending the funeral: The decision of whether to tell the person with dementia about the death and whether they should attend the funeral should be made in the best interests of the person. Think about how their dementia may affect others at the funeral and how their family and friends may feel if the person isn't told about the death.

Conclusion

Dealing with a dementia patient who is fixated on a deceased family member requires a delicate balance of empathy, patience, and understanding. It's crucial to respond with affection and reassurance, focusing on the feelings they are demonstrating rather than trying to correct their misconceptions. Engaging them in two-way conversations about their memories or other topics they enjoy can help distract them from their fixation on the deceased family member.

Redirection is a powerful tool in these situations. Introducing a meaningful activity, using simple language, and employing bridge phrases can help shift the patient's focus away from their fixation. Nonverbal cues, such as body language and facial expressions, can provide valuable insights into whether the redirection is working or if a different approach is needed.

Communication strategies include reminiscing about joyful memories, responding with affection and reassurance, and being prepared for different reactions. It's important to remember that dementia patients may express grief, cry, or be oblivious to the death of a close family member.

Lastly, it's essential to take care of oneself as a caregiver. Caring for a person with dementia can be emotionally and physically draining, and having a support system in place is crucial. This can include reaching out to other family members, friends, or support groups for assistance and guidance.

Remember, every dementia patient is unique, and what works for one might not work for another. It's about finding the right balance and approach for each individual, always keeping their comfort and well-being at the forefront.

Resources

Kind Ways to Respond When a Person With Dementia Forgets Someone Has Died

How to Handle a Loved One With Dementia Asking About Dead Relatives

How to Redirect a Loved One With Dementia

Techniques to Help Calm, Redirect Loved Ones with Dementia

As an Amazon Associate, I earn from qualifying purchases. The amount generated from these “qualifying purchases” helps to maintain this site.

The 36-Hour Day: A Family Guide to Caring for People Who Have Alzheimer's Disease and Other Dementias

The Validation Breakthrough: Simple Techniques for Communicating with People with ‘Alzheimer's-Type Dementia'

Dementia Home Care: How to Prepare Before, During, and After

Atypical Dementias: Understanding Mid-Life Language, Visual, Behavioral, and Cognitive Changes

The Dementia Caregiver's Survival Guide: An 11-Step Plan to Understand the Disease and How To Cope with Financial Challenges, Patient Aggression, and Depression Without Guilt, Overwhelm, or Burnout

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Navigating the Dementia Journey: A Compassionate Guide to Understanding, Supporting, and Living With Dementia

Ahead of Dementia: A Real-World, Upfront, Straightforward, Step-by-Step Guide for Family Caregivers

Four Common Mistakes by Caregivers of Loved Ones with Dementia and What Do Differently (video)

Eldercare Locator: a nationwide service that connects older Americans and their caregivers with trustworthy local support resources

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My Aging Parent Needs Help!: 7-Step Guide to Caregiving with No Regrets, More Compassion, and Going from Overwhelmed to Organized [Includes Tips for Caregiver Burnout]

Take Back Your Life: A Caregiver's Guide to Finding Freedom in the Midst of Overwhelm

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Everything Happens for a Reason: And Other Lies I've Loved

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Final Gifts: Understanding the Special Awareness, Needs, and Communications of the Dying

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How Do I Know Which Dementia I'm Looking At? (Video)

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Unlocking the Power of Validation Therapy in Compassionate End-of-Life Care

Validation Therapy: A Valuable Tool for Families and Healthcare Teams

Best Practices for Approaching Combative Dementia Patients

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As an Amazon Associate, I earn from qualifying purchases. The amount generated from these “qualifying purchases” helps to maintain this site.

The Validation Breakthrough: Simple Techniques for Communicating with People with Alzheimer's Disease and Other Dementias

As an Amazon Associate, I earn from qualifying purchases. The amount generated from these “qualifying purchases” helps to maintain this site.

How Do I Know You? Dementia at the End of Life

The Dementia Caregiver: A Guide to Caring for Someone with Alzheimer's Disease and Other Neurocognitive Disorders (Guides to Caregiving)

Sundown Dementia, Vascular Dementia and Lewy Body Dementia Explained

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Dementia Care Companion: The Complete Handbook of Practical Care from Early to Late Stage

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