How to try and help without overstepping the mark

I live with my friend who’s mum has vascular dementia. My friend has left her own home to live and take care of her mum an has done for the last 2 years. Of course the dementia has gotten worse over time and is increasingly challenging to deal with.
I don’t think my friend realises though…over this time she has become more and more impatient and irritable. She more or less ignores her mum and I understand it is extremely draining answering the same thing 1000 times a day but I can’t help feel she should try and be more empathetic. When she does engage with her mum it often leads to a bit of confrontation which I feel could be avoided if she just engaged a bit more and tried to understand her mum rather than barking orders and dismissing questions. My friend definitely has a lot on her plate and it isn’t easy for any of us but no one is having a more difficult time than her mum. How do I say something without it sounding offensive…I don’t want to hurt her feelings but I also can’t stand to see her mum get upset and ünerved by her actions.

Maybe buy a copy of a book called Contented Dementia. My father in law was very impatient at times with mum in law, who had always been a brilliant wife to him. He just couldn’t understand that it was no good telling her what to do, her brain just couldn’t work out what he was saying. It wasn’t that she didn’t want to do what she was told, she just didn’t understand the instruction.
Are you in the UK?

Before you offer any advice, you need to walk a mile in your friends shoes.

Until you’ve done it up close and personal you have no idea.

I’ve been married now for 48 years, I can honestly say that for the first 45 of those we never had an argument and barely a cross word between us. The last three years have been a constant battle, mostly caused by my a combination of my impatience, my unwillingness to tolerate incompetence and ineptitude and a lack of any attempt by my wife to change how she does things.

You would not believe how frustrating it is to explain to her a better way of doing something - proving it to her by actually getting her to do it and then watching her immediately revert. This may sound trivial, but just wait until you’ve sat waiting to take her to a Hospital appointment and after 15 minutes she’s still not managed to plug her seat belt in cos she won’t listen to me telling her what she’s doing wrong and make the appropriate adjustments. Yes I did do it myself in the end, (half of my spare 30 minutes allowed for parking etc had already gone) but my usual policy is to only do something for her if she actually asks.

the best thing you could do for your friend would be to give her regular breaks. If she knew she had breaks from caring, she would have more patience and be more open to trying techniques such as those in the book BB suggests. 24/7 caring becomes an exercise in survival; even more so during this pandemic.


Hello Robin

I can sympathise with your friend because I become frustrated so often here, with my mum. Then, inevitably, there comes the guilt at being in a bad mood, knowing I should be more patient.

I think your friend might realise very well how her behaviour has changed over time and I understand how desperate you are to improve matters, but one thing that might make it all worse is to let your friend know about your distress a little too directly. Have a think about social services and respite care. You could always mention how you could do with a break and how great it would be if your friend would join you.

Good luck to you all, David

Thank you for taking the time to give me advice it’s really appreciated.
I have lived with them for the last 2 years so do understand how trying this time is…as I’m in it with them. I am always there for my friend…I stay with her mum regularly myself to let her get time off nights away etc and much needed time to her self…inc for holidays abroad etc. I hold the fort…answer the questions, take care of the cooking the cleaning, dressing, washing and everything else in between so I do understand.
I suppose I just want a way to make the mood in the house a bit less tense on the daily for everyone.

Thanks…I will have a look for that book anything that can help is worth a shot! We are in the UK.

I am concerned that you and your friend cannot go out together any more, that mum’s needs are continually affecting yours. However hard your friend wants mum not to get any worse, she is on a down hill slide,and it is time for so one else to be involved with mum’s care. It will be you persuading your friend that it’s now time, a difficult conversation.

Best thing to do is to ask your friend how you can help and what she would find useful. When you are caring for someone with dementia the last thing you need to add your load is well meaning comments and advice from other people. You could also take a look at the Alzheimers Website - they have loads of brilliant downloads on every single aspect of dementia (not just Alzheimers) . Send your friend some links -if she wants them.
Totally agree with comment about not judging unless you have worn your friends shoes!!!

On the other hand, Robin is living with someone else’s mum and providing significant amounts of care himself for mum. He is not a Helicopter relative dropping in occasionally.
I think that he is entitled to say that he is concerned about the impact mum is having on not just his friend’s life, but him too. They need to recharge their batteries, have some fun going out together, not as individuals.
This can only be achieved by introducing someone else into the household who can support both of them. Maybe first to provide domestic assistance so she and mum get to know each other, and gradually increase her presence into the home, slowly and carefully.

Sorry I didn’t know the full background.

Thank you it’s good to talk to people who get it…I think you are probably right about needing a little bit of help out with us. Her mum has always been quite a shy person and socially anxious. She would worry all week at the thought of any kind of appointment, a meter reading, plumber, paper boy etc. So I think we have always had that in mind and tried to keep those interactions to a minimum naturally.
I think she’s almost at the stage where she won’t really know enough to worry about someone other than us being around.

Thanks…I am absolutely not judging my friend that’s the last thing I would think about. I love and care for her and have total compassion for the situation. I live with my friend and her mum and have done for the last 2 years. The main reason for that is to be there for them and alleviate some pressure from my friend. Although I realise how much more difficult and hard it must be to loose your own mother to dementia, for the rest of it I do walk in her shoes. We both have work commitments but I do spend the most time with her mum. I stay at home to let her get time away, days, nights holidays etc.

Thank you really appreciate the advice!


Sometimes, a relative just needs “permission” to say “I’m exhausted, I have nothing else to give, I just can’t do this any more”. My counsellor gave me the permission I needed to admit that, when everyone else expected me to do more, and more, and more.
Your friend may feel a “failure” but it’s not her that’s failed, or you, dementia is a dreadful, horrible disease.

Thank you so much, I think I needed to hear that…I’m not after a pat on the back or anything but its reassuring to hear someone else think that I am doing something right towards helping this situation for my friends mum and for my friend. I really do try my best to be there for them in any way I can…of course I’m human and far from perfect and probably make countless mistakes. With every new challenge brought on with the dementia, I try to understand it and find a way to adjust and deal with it in a compassionate way.
I have taken your advice and dropped a couple of things into conversation with my friend…I put it to her as a question I was wondering about myself and we talked through some resolutions and better ways to deal with stuff. I definitely feel it was a positive thing and we will be able to communicate about things better and openly as we go on…fingers crossed eh!
Thank you again!

No worries at all…we are all here just trying to understand the same things and dealing with similar struggles after all. Thanks for the links they’ve been helpful!

I changed my user name on the off chance my friend would recognise this as me and be hurt at me moaning!