My mom is a natural greenthumb; I’m more the plant hospice lady. But I recently decided to give gardening a try anyway. Turns out with patience and persistence, I actually saw some results! I don’t know how it’ll ultimately turn out, but I know I’ve made more progress than before I even tried.

It’s the same with dementia. Things may not be going well with your parent or spouse. Maybe you’re caught in a constant cycle of arguing, or you’re not sure what to do about a certain behavior that keeps cropping up. I firmly believe when we know better, we do better. But if we don’t know a better way to do something, we keep doing it the only way we know how–even if that means we keep getting results we don’t like.

One thing I learned early on in working with people living with dementia is that both patience and persistence are important ingredients in successfully engaging. If you’re struggling, patience is probably the last thing on your mind. Try these suggestions (and be sure to let me know how it goes):

  1. Take a deep breath. Sounds trite, but it actually works. If you feel yourself getting ready to lose it, take a deep breath. Then do it again. And again, and again, until you feel back in control.
  2. Identify what’s happening for you. Is it something specific that’s making you lose your patience? The same situation, repeatedly? Or is it any/every situation that’s tipping you over? If it’s the latter, this is a sign of caregiver stress. Use the Caregiver Burden Scale to see where you fall. If it’s above 61, you need immediate help. Call a trusted friend, other relative, me–anyone who will listen supportively and not be a jerk to you (you don’t need that!)
  3. Keep a log. Once you’ve identified the root cause, write it down and start tracking your changes. This will help you monitor your success as you implement changes.
  4. Slow it waaaaay down. Your loved one is living with a brain that is constantly under attack. This makes understanding what you’re saying a struggle. Slow down your speech pattern and allow her extra time to process what you’ve said before moving on to the next thing. If you haven’t already, grab your complimentary copy of my new guide Communication Tips & Strategies: A Guide for Dementia Care Partners.
  5. Think carefully about information you’re sharing. A common trigger to losing your patience is when your loved one asks you the same question, over and over. You may be unwittingly causing this to happen: Over-sharing information is a great way to make a person living with dementia anxious. Before you share, think through the questions you’re likely to get and then decide what you’ll share. Use the acronym “THINK (before you speak)” to help you make a decision: T-is it Thoughtful? H-is it Helpful? I-what is your Intention? N-is it Necessary to share this right now? K-is it Kind?
  6. Think carefully about when you share information. Once you’ve put the information out there, you’re in tacit agreement that you’ll patiently answer the same question a zillion times in a row, each time as though it’s the first time you’ve heard it. Your parent or spouse can’t help that they can’t remember the answer; they only know that something about the information is making them anxious. Please note: it doesn’t matter if you think it should make them anxious or not; it is making them anxious, so back to “THINK (before you speak).”
  7. Use joyful disruption. If you’ve seen me speak about arguing, you know this is one of my favorite techniques for ending or preventing an argument (because it works!). It can be used in pursuit of keeping your patience, too.
  8. Be persistent. Keep trying. If you’re not getting the results you want, it’s worth learning a new way of doing things, so you can get out of the cycle that’s making life hard for you right now. You will eventually see results, sometimes immediately. Sometimes it will take practice before you notice results, but it’ll always be worth it–you already know the old way isn’t working, so you might as well try something new, right?

REMINDER: you are never, ever alone! No matter how isolated you may feel, the truth is that I’m right here on the other side of the screen and I am always rooting for you! Reach out any time, social media links are below.

I’m always interested in what you have to say! Send me an email to christy@ctcdcm.com. 

Christy Turner is the founder of DementiaSherpa.com (CTC Dementia Care Management) and has enjoyed the privilege of working with over 1,045 people living with dementia and their families. Follow on Facebook, Google+, Instagram, Periscope, Pinterest, Twitter, and YouTube. Content varies daily across platforms.