Caring for a Family Member With Dementia

Dementia is a broad term for symptoms showing a decline in a person’s ability to think. When a family member has dementia, family relationships change. People with dementia can still look the same, but they may act differently. They cannot do things they used to do. They may not be able to work, drive, clean, cook, pay bills, or fix things around the house. They might not be able to be the friend and companion they once were. Their behavior may not fit what you would expect from a husband, wife, parent, or grandparent.

Being a Caregiver

Taking care of a loved one with dementia is difficult. Many caregivers feel like they aren’t making a difference. They can get frustrated. It may seem that no matter how much they do, their loved one gets worse instead of better.

Caregivers need to learn about dementia and the problems that go with it. Dementia affects a person’s everyday activities. Caregivers need to be ready to step in when their loved one needs help.

Taking Care of Yourself

It takes a lot of time and energy to care for someone with dementia. It gets even more demanding as time goes on. It is important to pay attention to your own physical and emotional health. Keep regular appointments with your doctor. Find someone you can talk to and confide in about being a caregiver. This person could be another family member, friend, or professional. It can also be helpful to join a support group with other caregivers.

It is stressful to care for someone with dementia. The stress can even lead to physical changes in the caregiver. Some of these physical symptoms are:

  • Muscle tension
  • Pain
  • Headache
  • Shortness of breath
  • Higher blood pressure
  • Trouble sleeping
  • Digestion problems

A caregiver may have emotional problems as well. Some of these are:

  • Irritable mood
  • Depression
  • Lack of concentration
  • Tiredness
  • Angry outbursts

Some caregivers use alcohol, tobacco, or other drugs to try to relieve their stress. Some begin to eat too much and others may lose weight.

Take a Break

You will need to get a break, or respite, from the routine and stress. Respite should be arranged on a regular basis. You can have your relative attend a day care center. You can have paid or volunteer help come to your house. A family member or friend can take the person out for a few hours. The Department of Aging can help you find ways to arrange respite. In some communities, the Department of Aging is called the Area Agency on Aging. The phone number will be listed in your local phone book. Building a regular break into your schedule is the single most important thing you can do to take care of yourself.

Understand Your Limits

You can’t do much to change the course of dementia. You should not feel guilty when your loved one doesn’t improve. Eventually, he or she will need 24-hour care. Set realistic expectations, and accept your limits. Ask for help from your family and find resources that are available in your community. You will be less weary in your role when you share responsibilities, confide in others, and stay involved in your usual activities. Caring for a loved one with dementia takes up a lot of time. It can also be emotionally draining. But at the same time, it is an important part of family life. It can also be very rewarding.

Medical and psychiatric interventions can help control the symptoms of dementia. The Alzheimer’s Association helps families and other caregivers provide the highest quality of care to people with dementia.

UPMC | Affiliated with the University of Pittsburgh Schools of the Health Sciences | Supplemental content provided by Healthwise, Incorporated. To learn more, visit

For help in finding a doctor or health service that suits your needs, call the UPMC Referral Service at 412-647-UPMC (8762) or 1-800-533-UPMC (8762). Select option 1.

UPMC is an equal opportunity employer. UPMC policy prohibits discrimination or harassment on the basis of race, color, religion, ancestry, national origin, age, sex, genetics, sexual orientation, gender identity, marital status, familial status, disability, veteran status, or any other legally protected group status. Further, UPMC will continue to support and promote equal employment opportunity, human dignity, and racial, ethnic, and cultural diversity. This policy applies to admissions, employment, and access to and treatment in UPMC programs and activities. This commitment is made by UPMC in accordance with federal, state, and/or local laws and regulations.

Medical information made available on is not intended to be used as a substitute for professional medical advice, diagnosis, or treatment. You should not rely entirely on this information for your health care needs. Ask your own doctor or health care provider any specific medical questions that you have. Further, is not a tool to be used in the case of an emergency. If an emergency arises, you should seek appropriate emergency medical services.

Pittsburgh, PA, USA |