The person with dementia may not recognise familiar people, places or things. He or she may forget relationships, call family members by other names or become confused about where home is. The person may also forget the purpose of common items, such as a pen or a fork. These situations are extremely difficult for caregivers and families and require patience and understanding.

How to respond
• Stay calm. Although being called by a different name or not being recognized can be painful, try not to make your hurt apparent.

• Respond with a brief explanation. Don't overwhelm the person with lengthy statements or reasons. Instead, clarify with a simple explanation.

• Show photos and other reminders. Use photographs and other thought-provoking items to remind the person of important relationships and places.

• Offer corrections as suggestions. Avoid explanations that sound like scolding. Try: 'I thought it was a fork, ' or: 'I think she is your granddaughter, Julie.'

• Try not to take it personally. Dementia causes your loved one to forget, but your support and understanding will continue to be appreciated.

Validation Therapy

Validation Therapy advocates that, rather than trying to bring the person with dementia back to our reality, it is more positive to enter their reality. In this way empathy is developed with the person, building trust and a sense of security. This in turn reduces anxiety. Many families and carers report increased benefits for themselves, as well as for the person with dementia, from a reduced number of conflicts and a less stressful environment.

Some family members and carers express concern that validation involves lying to the person with dementia about reality. However a more accurate description is that it avoids challenging their reality.

For instance, if a person with dementia believes that she is waiting for her children, all now middle aged, to return from school, family members and carers who use validation would not argue the point or expect their relative to have insight into their behaviour. They would not correct their beliefs. Rather, the validating approach proposes acknowledging and empathising with the feelings behind the behaviour being expressed. In this way the person's dignity and self-esteem are maintained.

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Did you know?

If we could delay the onset of Alzheimer's by 5 years we could halve the number of people who die with the disease.