One of my mom’s favorite things to say is, “Getting older isn’t for sissies.” And, it’s true. Reaching the senior years comes with its fair share of challenges. Graying hair, aches and pains—and perhaps most difficult of all—in some cases, dementia.

Physical changes that come with aging are anticipated. But, when mental sharpness begins to deteriorate, that can be tough on both the senior and their family members.

While it’s something that few people want to discuss, it’s an important topic nonetheless. So, let’s go over what exactly dementia is, and how you can best care for someone who’s coping with it.

What is dementia?

People often become confused about what exactly dementia is. It’s not, in fact, a disorder on its own. Instead, it’s an umbrella term used to describe a group of conditions characterized by the impairment of at least two brain functions. These could be memory loss, personality disorders, or impaired judgment and reasoning.

Oftentimes, people equate dementia with Alzheimer’s. However, they aren’t synonyms. Alzheimer’s is a type (albeit, a common one) of dementia. But, it doesn’t account for the entire term.

What should you know when dealing with a senior with dementia?

From personality changes to memory loss, there’s no denying that dealing with someone who’s experiencing dementia symptoms can be tough. While nothing will make dealing with dementia easy, these simple tips should help to make the process a little smoother.

1. Be Patient

First and foremost, it’s important that you remain patient when dealing with a loved one who has dementia symptoms. Yes, it can be frustrating to repeat yourself constantly or watch your loved one become unrecognizable. However, as disheartening as it is for you, it’s ten times tougher on your loved one.

Bear that in mind and always treat your loved one with patience, compassion, and kindness. Losing your cool will only serve to make matters worse.

2. Keep Communication Simple

When communicating with someone with dementia, the simpler the better. Now, that’s not to say that you should talk to your loved one as if you’e talking to a child (that can just come off as condescending). However, there are a few key things to keep in mind in order to make communication as effective as possible.

First, eliminate as many distractions as you can—including turning off the t.v. and ensuring that you have his or her attention before beginning speaking.

Secondly, make your message clear. Those with dementia might have a difficult time sorting through flowery language or sarcasm. So, clarity should be a priority.

Finally, when asking questions, stay away from open-ended ones that you’d typically use in conversation. Instead, simple yes or no questions will yield better results for you.

3. Don’t Take Things Personally

Unfortunately, inappropriate behavior comes along with the territory of dementia. While lewd remarks or totally out of character decisions can definitely be difficult to deal with and witness, it’s important that you make your best effort not to take things personally.

Remember, it’s the disease that’s bringing that on—not your loved one. When caring for someone with dementia, a thick skin is important.

4. Have a Sense of Humor

Yes, seeing your loved one go through something so difficult is tragic. So, I can understand that having a sense of humor might seem counterintuitive at this point in time. However, it truly can be the best thing for both you and your loved one

Don’t be afraid to laugh when situations warrant it—although, never at your loved one’s expense. Even though your dementia has altered your loved one, people with dementia often retain their social skills. So, they’re typically more than willing to indulge in laughing right along with you (in fact, they’ll enjoy it!).

There’s no denying that dealing with dementia can be brutal. However, being informed about the what it is and how to best deal with it will be a great help to both you and your loved one. As the saying goes, “Knowledge is power.”