How to Cope When Your Parent Has Dementia

Dementia is the term used to describe a group of progressive neurological conditions that impact memory and cognitive function. Despite popular belief, it’s not a singular condition or disease — it’s more of a catch-all term that’s used to describe symptoms that other conditions, like Alzheimer’s disease, can cause. According to research, almost 16 million families today are dealing with a parent with dementia. 

Dementia makes daily activities and functioning difficult and can drastically change family dynamics. It can take a physical and emotional toll on family caregivers — who are often adult children. Some experts believe that up to 20% of family caregivers experience depression as a result of the tremendous stress related to caring for someone with dementia.

If you’re trying to learn how to cope with a parent with dementia, knowing effective techniques and tools will help you manage the challenges. Keep reading to learn everything you need to know about dealing with a parent with dementia.

Understand Dementia & Its Symptoms

Before you can provide care for an aging parent with dementia, it’s important to understand the condition and what symptoms might look like. Symptoms of dementia can vary, but there are some common signs to note. 

Symptoms and signs of dementia can include:

Memory loss

Difficulty communicating

Changes in mood or behavior

Losing things more frequently




Inability to accomplish everyday tasks, like paying bills and remembering appointments

Difficulty concentrating

Communicate Effectively

Effective communication is crucial when learning how to care for someone with dementia. If they’ve recently been diagnosed and can still make decisions, take the time to have important, albeit tough, conversations about future needs and wants. Discuss things like future care and intervention they do and don’t want, end-of-life care, and funeral or memorial services.   

As dementia progresses, the ability to communicate effectively becomes more challenging yet increasingly important. Here are strategies to ensure meaningful communication throughout the journey:

Simplify communication: Use simple words and short sentences. Speak clearly and calmly to avoid overwhelming your parent.

Maintain eye contact and use verbal cues: Physical presence and touch can be comforting. Maintain eye contact to convey your message more effectively, and use appropriate gestures to support understanding.

Be patient and supportive: Give them time to respond, and avoid interrupting or rushing the conversation. Show that you value their input, even if expressing thoughts becomes difficult for them.

Focus on feelings, not facts: As dementia progresses, your parent may remember emotions more than specific events. Focus on how they feel rather than correcting inaccuracies in their memories.

Use visual aids and reminders: Pictures, objects, or other visual aids can help in communication, especially when verbal skills are declining.

Practice active listening: Show that you are listening and trying to understand their perspective. Validation of their feelings and experiences can go a long way in maintaining a connection.

It’s also beneficial to involve healthcare professionals in these conversations early on. They can offer guidance on navigating the disease progression and provide resources for support. As dementia advances, re-evaluating communication strategies regularly will help you adapt to your parent’s changing needs, ensuring that they feel supported and understood at every stage.

Engage in Memory Care Activities

As dementia progresses, helping an aging parent engage in memory care activities can be beneficial. It can enhance mood and reduce the frustration and agitation they might experience. 

The following activities can help stimulate cognitive function to improve well-being:

Reminiscence therapy: Encourage your parent to reflect on their past, look through old photos, or discuss favorite family memories or special events.

Sensory stimulation: Engage their senses with activities like listening to music, touching materials, or smelling favorite familiar scents.

Art therapy: Some research suggests that art therapy can improve well-being in people with dementia. 

Puzzles and games: Simple games and easy puzzles can stimulate cognitive function and enhance problem-solving skills, things that grow increasingly challenging over time for those living with dementia.

Pet therapy: Therapy animals are proven to reduce stress, improve mood, encourage social interaction, and promote positive connections. 

Create a Supportive Environment

When caring for a parent with dementia, creating a supportive environment is vital. In many ways, their environment will contribute to overall well-being and quality of life. 

There are several ways caregivers can help establish and promote a supportive environment, including:

Focusing on safety: Basic safety guards are crucial for people living with dementia. Locks and alarms on doors and windows can prevent wandering, and handrails and grab bars in bathrooms, hallways, and stairs will help avoid falls. 

Maximizing independence: An elderly parent with dementia needs to be as independent as possible. Labeling drawers and cabinets can help them complete daily tasks successfully and give them a sense of accomplishment. 

Reducing stress: Daily routines should be consistent, calm, and predictable to ensure stability and prevent anxiety in older adults with dementia.

Using memory aids: Visual cues — like labels, calendars or daily schedules, large-font digital clocks, and easy-to-read lists of important people and appointments can help.

Encouraging social interaction: Staying socially active will reduce feelings of isolation. Encourage regular visits from family and close friends, and plan recreational activities and group outings when possible.  

Seek Professional Help and Resources

Even the best caregivers need help and support. Seeking additional assistance doesn’t mean you’re not doing a good job caring for an elderly parent with dementia. Support and relief can help you reset and re-energize so you have more to give. 

Professional respite care services can offer caregivers a much-needed temporary break if family or friends can’t share responsibilities. They also provide additional interaction with others, which can be another layer of social interaction. 

Take Care of Your Emotional Health

It’s essential that, as a caregiver, you take care of yourself, too. That old adage about putting on your own oxygen mask first still applies. Emotional stress can cause burnout and lead to other mental health conditions, like depression and anxiety. Prioritizing your mental and emotional health is crucial to offering compassionate, effective care to your loved one and preventing caregiver burnout. 

To take care of yourself emotionally, make sure you are:

Getting support from others — either mental health providers or from other trusted family members or close friends

Practicing acceptance

Taking breaks

Setting family boundaries

Practicing self-care

“One of the most important things a caregiver can do for their mental health and the care of their loved one would be to take care of themselves. This can be done in several ways: Do not forget about your own health, exercise, eat well and get plenty of rest. Try to take time to relax and ask for help when needed.”

– Talkspace therapist Reshawna Chapple, PhD, LCSW

Legal and Financial Planning

Legal and financial planning isn’t fun, but it’s a critical task that needs to be addressed as soon as possible after a dementia diagnosis. Getting affairs in order now will ensure future needs are met and can reduce stress on families later. 

Consider the following to address legal and financial concerns:

Create or update important legal documents like a will, trust, Power of Attorney (POA), advanced healthcare directive, beneficiaries, TOD/POD accounts, and life insurance policies.

Discuss guardianship or conservatorship

Review finances

Discuss and plan for long-term care needs

Find Joy in the Moment

Above all, look for ways to find joy every day. Time is precious, and we never know how long we will have with loved ones. Take the time to appreciate the little things and everyday moments that won’t always be there. 

“Make sure to try and stay in the moment and love your parents while you have time with them.”

– Talkspace therapist Reshawna Chapple, PhD, LCSW

These are some simple reminders of how you can find joy every day:

Consider keeping a gratitude journal to remind yourself and a parent with dementia that there are still things we can be grateful for

Laugh, spend time together, and appreciate one another

Practice mindfulness, which focuses on being in the moment and present

Celebrate small wins and accomplishments

Focus on what you can control and be realistic with expectations

Get Support with Online Therapy

Learning how to cope with a parent with dementia can be daunting. Fortunately, you don’t have to go through it alone. Talkspace is an online therapy platform that makes getting expert guidance and support easy, convenient, and affordable. With text, voice, or video options for care, you can get professional mental health support when, where, and how it works with your busy schedule.

You deserve the time to care for yourself in as many ways as you care for others. Talkspace makes that possible. Get support with online therapy from Talkspace today.


Caregiver statistics: Demographics. Caregiver Statistics: Demographics – Family Caregiver Alliance. 2016. Accessed March 18, 2024.

Caregiver depression: A silent health crisis. Caregiver Depression: A Silent Health Crisis – Family Caregiver Alliance. Accessed March 18, 2024.  

Emblad SYM, Mukaetova-Ladinska EB. Creative art therapy as a non-pharmacological intervention for dementia: A systematic review. Journal of Alzheimer’s Disease Reports. 2021;5(1):353-364. doi:10.3233/adr-201002. Accessed March 18, 2024.

Pet power. Alzheimer’s Disease and Dementia. 2023. Accessed March 21, 2024.  

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