Don't Say This! Phrases That Can Stress out Someone With Dementia

Not to make you self-conscious, but are you speaking to your loved one in ways that inadvertently add stress? We often ask one another questions in normal conversation that, to someone with early mild-stage dementia, can feel as threatening and anxiety-producing as a test.

Some examples:

"Do you remember the time. . . ?"

No, your loved one many not remember that at all. And unlike a healthy listener, the person with early dementia may be hyper-aware of having lapses and grappling with memory slippage.

"What was the name of that actress we saw. . . ?"

A casual trivia question may be perceived as a quiz.

"Can you tell me how to. . . ?"

Innocent phrases like these are stressful if the person is unable to describe or demonstrate a sequence of instructions.

What works better: Try to screen your questions mentally and rephrase them before you say them aloud. It may feel like you're bending over backward not to offend. In fact, you're simply trying to avoid situations that add to a sense of confusion, deficiency, or lapse. In a way, it's basic etiquette -- keeping the other person's comfort paramount -- with a dementia twist.


Paula Spencer Scott

Paula Spencer Scott is the author of Surviving Alzheimer's: Practical Tips and Soul-Saving Wisdom for Caregivers and much of the Alzheimer's and caregiving content on Caring. See full bio