Caring for Someone with Dementia… You Have More Skills to Draw from Than You May Realize

Written by Cagney Martin & Merry Wimmer

As a young child, our brains are like a sponge… soaking up everything that we see, hear, and feel.  Every day is new, and our inherent curiosity navigates our learning. As youngsters, we ask adults “Why?” after nearly every sentence they utter. Through trial and error, and from the responses we get from others, we learn.

Parents of young children work hard to provide positive feedback and to maintain their patience even as it is tested.

Dad and Daughter Learning Together

When their tempers get the best of them, they are reminded that their children are still learning and their brains are still developing. Even through the “Terrible 2’s,” adolescence, and puberty, they remember to take a deep breath, knowing that these common difficult phases are just bumps in the road — The underlying love for their children remains unchanged as their children grow older. Ultimately, they take great joy in their children’s learning milestones and help them through the detours they may face.

Adults also journey through several changes

Getting married, having kids, new jobs, new houses, or being diagnosed with dementia or another illness. Each milestone comes with its own joys, frustrations, and challenges. And during each life change, our loved ones and those around us similarly help us to learn and grow. They remain dedicated to our success, and they continue to develop right along with us. And much like a ripple in the water, everything around us is affected by the change.

Caring for someone with dementia is no different. 

When a loved one is diagnosed with dementia, we often see them change. We may doubt ourselves, question their actions, or get upset or frustrated. But this pattern is, and should be, familiar to us. Our whole lives are hallmarked by changes in the brain, beginning at infancy. And with each change, from early on to later in life, we adjust, adapt, and continue to help our loved ones grow. Just as a mother must adjust her approach to her teenage son, and a husband must adjust to his newly pregnant wife, caregivers of those with dementia must also adjust.

caring for an elder

Dementia is but another milestone that many people are experiencing in their life’s journey.

All of us can understand this disease, even if we know nothing of the medical aspects, because we have lived through changes ourselves — changes within ourselves and changes in those we love. As with every milestone, we alter our relationship to what that person needs from us in that moment. It can often no longer be about the past relationship you two had, but instead becomes about what “us” looks like for you both now.


Dementia is the one disease that can be made better or worse by your actions and reactions to the person who has it. 

Be in the moment, and support the relationship and the person standing in front of you right now. You may not think you do, but you do know how they feel inside and you do know what you need to do for them during this phase of life, too. Simply decide to adjust, to help them grow, and to provide them with unconditional positive love — just as you have your whole life and just as you would want someone to do for you.

It’s what’s inside that matters.


We invite you to read the brief summary below for information on a full-day, innovative dementia care workshop offered by North Central Health Care in Wausau.

This is a one-of-a-kind experience with intense and interactive training that will re-frame YOUR behavior, instead of “managing” that of the person with dementia. Perfect for CNAs, administrators, or in-home health care, Hospice, or other types of caregivers.

Stop Starting It logo

Merry_Wimmer-Cagney_MartinMerry Wimmer & Cagney Martin

Dementia Care Team Members  |  Legacies by the Lake Dementia Care at Mount View Care Center

Merry Wimmer (on left) and Cagney Martin (on right) have been awarded a grant to provide dementia care training to nursing home professionals across Wisconsin. Their program, Stop! Starting It, aims to provide training and interventions for caregivers on how to change their approach to create more engaging, successful, and fulfilling interactions with those with dementia. Additional training sessions are planned beginning in 2020.  Email Merry Wimmer. Email Cagney Martin.

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Image credits:

Elder photo by Jixiao Huang via Unsplash.

Dad/daughter learning image by Daniela Dimitrova via Pixabay.

Eldercare image by truthseeker08 via Pixabay

Dementia puzzle image by Gerd Altmann via Pixabay.