Dispelling Dementia Myths: People with Dementia Become Like Children

Do people with Dementia become like children? This myth has stemmed from the fact that many of the behaviours associated with Dementia are similar to those exhibited by young children. A person with Dementia may experience a range of symptoms, including mood swings, irrational behaviour, forgetfulness, and problems with vocabulary. These behaviours are also common in children, and in some cases, people see these similarities and alter their behaviour accordingly. However, it’s important to know that a person with Dementia is not a child and should not be treated as such. Treating a person with Dementia like a child is likely to frustrate them and make them feel undignified.

If someone you love is diagnosed with Dementia, it’s important to try to understand how their brain functions. One of the ways to do this is by downloading help sheets from Dementia Australia that will give you information about the different types of dementia, where to get help, as well as much more information. A person living with Dementia is experiencing a complete change in their cognitive functioning and knowledge, and as there is currently no known cure for Dementia, they are likely to continue to regress, either quickly or slowly, depending on how the disease progresses.

While a person living with Dementia may have problems with comprehension and disorientation, they still deserve respect and dignity. The way that they are treated is extremely important, and can directly influence how they feel and how they act. As such, it is important to avoid behaving in the following ways around them. 

Don’t Dictate Every Activity

A person living with Dementia will generally cope best in familiar environments with structured, predictable routines. However, in some cases, a caregiver or loved one may want to deviate from the routine to do a different activity with the person. Be mindful that in some cases, the caregiver’s opinion of an ‘appropriate’ activity may not be something that the person with Dementia wants to do. 

In addition, in the early stages of Dementia, many people may want to continue leading active lives for as long as possible. If they are not given the opportunity to do the things they enjoy and are interested in, they may start to display negative behaviours. Like other adults, a person living with Dementia is likely to continue to want to make their own decisions about what to do and when they want to do it. As a caregiver or loved one, our responsibility is to facilitate the activity and ensure it is safe for the person.

Don’t Use Childish Language

In the later stages of Dementia, you may be providing high levels of care to a loved one, helping them to do basic activities of daily life such as washing, dressing and eating. While this can remind us of being a parent, it’s important to ensure you are not using a parental tone with your loved one, as it can come across as condescending, disrespectful, and undignified. Be careful about your tone and choice of words, and try to speak to your loved one as an equal. Using words like ‘nappy’, ‘bib’, and ‘potty’ is inappropriate. Instead, it is better to try to use adult versions of these words, ‘underwear’, ‘apron’, and ‘bathroom’. Remember that the person in your care is still an adult and deserves to be spoken to as such. 

Don’t Argue With the Person

In some cases, a person with Dementia simply will not want to do what their caregiver or loved one recommends. It’s important not to argue with them in order to convince them to do something; even if this is something that you deem to be necessary, such as showering or getting dressed. While it may be tempting to try to reason with the person, remember that they are missing some of the ability to process the information that supports your argument. Getting angry will only frustrate both of you, so it’s better to either walk away and drop it or try to reframe the conversation. 

Don’t Expect Progress

There are treatments available that can slow the progression of Dementia and improve the quality of life for someone living with Dementia. However, in most cases, people with Dementia cannot recover their ability to make new connections or retain new knowledge. Unlike children, whose brains are constantly developing so that they can build new knowledge, people with Dementia continue to lose information and the ability to do things that were once easy. Rather than trying to get the person to change, develop and remember more things, caregivers should focus their efforts on developing other useful caregiving strategies, such as re-directing conversations that the person finds confusing, and diffusing stressful situations. 

If you’re caring for someone with Dementia, the Dementia Live® course may be of benefit to you. The course immerses carers in the experience of living with Dementia to give them powerful insights for effectively communicating with those in their care.


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