7 Things Not to Say to Someone with Alzheimer’s Disease

When providing dementia care, it’s hard to know what to say to the person who has Alzheimer’s (or other form of dementia). So unfortunately, it’s pretty easy to become tongue tied and say the wrong thing. And the last thing you want to do as a caregiver is cause your loved one undue stress. But if you follow these guidelines for what not to say, you’ll be on much safer ground when talking to someone with Alzheimer’s:

  1. Your husband (or daughter, or mother, or anyone else) is dead. If your mom starts looking for your dad who passed away 10 years ago, don’t tell her he’s dead. It will only cause her to grieve all over again. It might be better to just say, “He isn’t here right now.”
  2. You can’t go home. If your dad who has dementia says he wants to go home and you can’t take him there, don’t just tell him he can’t go home. Try telling him, “We’re doing this right now.” Or “we’ll go to the house later.”
  3. You’re already at home. One day my mom, who had Alzheimer’s, was at her home in Kansas City, but thought she was somewhere else. She kept asking to go home. Rather than trying to explain to her that she was already home, my sister told her they were all on vacation. She thought it was odd they had to cook their own meals while vacationing, but she stopped asking to go home and seemed content after that.
  4. You’re wrong. If your mom says the sky is black, don’t argue. You won’t win, and it will only upset her. It’s better to just change the subject.
  5. Remember…? What did… ? Did you…? Early on in my mom’s illness, I used to make the mistake of asking her if she’d eaten breakfast or if she’d talked to any of my siblings lately. She’d get flustered when she couldn’t remember, and I’d feel like a heel. Instead of asking questions, try talking about your day.
  6. You said that already. If your dad has dementia, he’s going to repeat himself. Pointing it out may upset him. Try being a good listener.
  7. I’m right here. My parents were home alone one night and my mom kept asking my dad where Chuck was (that’s my dad’s name). She thought my dad was some other guy named Chuck, and she wanted to know where her husband was. Nothing he said could convince her he was who he said he was. So he left the house, walked around the block, and came in the front door. My mom scolded him for not telling her where he’d gone. He apologized, and all was well again.

Sometimes it takes a bit of creativity to avoid saying something that might be hurtful to someone who has Alzheimer’s. And if you do slip up and use one of these phrases, it’s not the end of the world. Just quickly change the subject.