Dementia training for caregivers: is it important?
adult education class for dementia caregivers practices cpr

The caregiving community is incredibly diverse, but it seems we can agree that dementia caregivers — both family and professional caregivers — should be trained. Dementia caregiving is a world where the ‘normal’ rules don’t apply and we all need guidance learning to support, motivate, and keep people with dementia safe.

Family caregivers and professional caregivers both report that they wish they’d gotten training in dementia sooner and that it makes their lives easier — while helping them take better care of dementia patients.

Even at the assisted living facility where I’m a nurse, where I’d say the majority of my residents have dementia in some form, our aides have no idea how to handle it.

One resident consistently tries to “go home,” often packing up all her things, trying to get out the doors etc. The best way to calm her, I’ve found, is to tell her something to the effect of “the moving truck broke down and they won’t be able to fix it until tomorrow.” She accepts that and goes about her day.

So many times I’ve had to coach my aides because they try to prove to her that she lives at the facility, showing her name on her door and things. This only leads to her becoming agitated, then I have to medicate her because nothing will calm her down.

I like to explain it like this to my aides: imagine you’re finishing up your shift and someone tells you that you can’t leave, you live there and it’s time for you to get into bed. You know 100% that you don’t live there. When no one lets you leave you get mad, and scared, and you just want to get out of there–these people are keeping you in captivity. You’ve got to get home to your kids, go grocery shopping, and no one will let you go home. You haven’t worked here that long and now they’re telling you that you can never leave.

Because dementia patients can’t be “taught” out of their delusions. It just doesn’t work that way. So yeah, dementia training should be 100% mandatory. – Devon C.

Here’s what our community members have to say

The focus for many places, caregiving organizations, and doctors seems to be on what the dementia patients have lost ability to do. There is still so much they can do, respond to, which if we help facilitate will make the patients daily life meaningful. – Colleen H.

One of my mother’s caregivers from the agency was up all night arguing with my mother about whether there was a baby in the house. My mother asked “Where is the baby?” The ones that had training in dementia knew to answer with, “the baby is at your daughter’s house tonight so that you can rest.” – Barbara K.

I don’t think it’s a bad idea at all. My husband has Alzheimer’s/dementia and sometimes it is so hard for me to handle the cognitive /not cognitive moments with him. I try to just “go along” with those moments, but, it is very difficult. If there is a better way to handle it with proper training, sign me up! – Kathleen S.

I agree training would be great. Everyone doesn’t have the patience to deal with dementia/Alzheimers patients no matter how trained they are. They first need a heart to care and understand that this isn’t an easy job. – Quince J.

I’m caring for a grandparent and I was totally unprepared for the multiple bad episodes. Even her gerontologist isn’t much help. – Fern L.

There are times that you will wish you had training when they have a really bad episode. That training can make a big difference to their care and your approach. – Nicole K.

I’ve done all my own training on my own time with my own money because I adore these people and they deserve to be understood and their families deserve to know their being well taken care of. – Michelle W.

I used an agency to get a caregiver for my mom with Dementia, it was amazing how little they knew and were just trained on the cleaning part. I was training them and paying them hundreds of dollars…very sad. How do you help your client if you don’t understand their needs? I feel very bad for elderly that don’t have family around all the time to oversee the care they are receiving. – Terry F.

Caregivers who are inexperienced in this field leads to abuse because of the lack of understanding. And by abuse I mean unknowingly acting out towards the person with out intentionally meaning so. When a caregiver doesn’t understand and that caregiver starts to get caregiver breakdown, unintentional harm happens with out even realizing themselves they are doing it. I’ve personally have seen this happen way to many times. It’s a bad situation to both parties involved. – Kim S.

I hired caregivers to help with my Dad, and I was amazed at what they didn’t know about Dementia patients. I had to train them how to react, care for and converse with my Dad. – Patti K.

I take care of my Mum who has Alzheimer’s. I’m very glad I got trained in this area. It has been a stress saver. When I look at my Mum, I see the great honour I have been given to take care of her. – Melody F.

After what my nans going through on a so called dementia unit in a hospital, I think people need training. We have to go to the dementia unit and feed her everyday because they don’t have the patience. They have no idea at all. – Charlotte S.

Some comments have been edited for clarity and/or grammar.

Written by Allison Powell
I live off of food from Trader Joe's. I spend my life in a cubicle, a la Office Space. I'm kind of obsessed with the internet. Confession: I take care of people but don't identify as a caregiver.

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  1. husband is a retired disabled vet with stage 5 Dementia, it is very hard going to the store with him. He will throw a fix like a 3 year old if he does not get his way. Usually I will ask him he needs a drink, take him out of the store, go thru a drive thru and take him home. Then I will have my 31 year old daughter watch him while I go to the store. What ever the problem is, I find something I know he likes or wants and it usually does the trick.

  2. Yes it is Important,Their Safety and Your Safety is Important. Their minds work a Little Different and Their Vision may Be Impaired.
    Slow movements and Calm tone of Voice all Done in Direct Line of Vision.
    Dignity and Respect.

  3. I have been caring for my 99 yr old mother for many years. She has what I call episodic dementia; sometimes she’s pretty good, other times, not. Recently she has begun crying for her mother and father who of course have been dead for years. One of her aides told her at one point that they were dead and she totally freaked out. I was called from my office to come calm her down. She begged me to tell her her parents are still alive. Now barely a day goes by without her asking where they are and why they don’t visit her. She tells me constantly that they must be very worried about her. I have spoken with the social workers on staff where she lives and they all tell me just to let it go and change the subject. But it absolutely breaks my heart. There is nothing that could have prepared me for this. Every day is another fresh hell.

  4. Kept my mother in law from early stage through late stage. Recently put her in a facility and she is on hospice. The general public will never understand this disease until we stop calling it memory loss. Memory loss is understood as a temperary thing…like losing your keys to find them again. This is not that. It is a backwards decline where everything that was done or learned is being undone and unlearned.. There is so much to know and so few people understanding the disease.

  5. Imperative that people read and learn ways to deal with dementia and Alzheimer’s. There’s a hard way and there’s a little easier way which is the kinder way!

  6. Definitely important, no one seems to fully understand this disease.

  7. Where do you go tp get training?

    • I took a course through (aimed also to help other caregivers jumping into this role) Area-wide Agency on Aging..not sure if all states/communities have them. But I would start with calling your local social services dept, Julia.

  8. I have found this to be a hard and fast rule unfortunately… Most nurses and doctors do not even like the elderly. They do not understand their unique needs dementia or no dementia.

  9. I’ve never thought about training. Sign me up.

  10. Wish I had had some training to know what to expect

    • “The 36-Hour Day” is pretty informative, however, Alz/dementia is certainly full of surprises… : (

    • I just got this book 1 1/2 weeks ago.

  11. I think I must be an intuitive caregiver. My grandmother had Alzheimer’s 35 years ago, when I was 15. I kept her at home with me that summer while my mom, her daughter, worked.

    She was always packing to go home. And would get so frustrated and upset if I told her she lived with us, and lived 400 miles away. (She was going to walk home.)

    She calmed down immediately when I told her that she would have to wait until my mother, her daughter, got home from work to leave because she would be so upset if grandma didn’t say goodbye.

    She would agree, “yes, of course, I want to say bye before I leave.” And she would be calm for quite a while.

    Some how my fifteen year old self figured that out…


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