For example, patients with more advanced dementia who no longer carry large amounts of money or credit cards may get very anxious if they misplace the wallet, or misplace toothpaste or another household object.

She suggested the caregiver carry a small, duplicate wallet to give them or get travel-size toothpaste bottles to bring out when the patient cannot find one.

When one woman said her mother no longer recognized herself in the mirror because she expected to see a young woman, Lipton suggested getting rid of, or covering up, decorative mirrors. She also suggested distracting the patient and avoiding making them upset.

"You never win an argument with an Alzheimer's patient," Lipton said. "Why subject her to the pain of that [reminder]?"


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Another method is giving a non-committal answer to the question of who is in the mirror, like, "That's a very nice lady."

For a patient who shows violent behavior like scratching or slapping, "she is probably trying to reach out to people," Lipton said, suggesting the caregiver give her something to do with her hands like a stress ball or folding clothes.

For patients who are especially hateful or hurtful, Lipton advised telling themselves or others, "That's the dementia talking."

Caregivers also have to know when to draw the line to keep the patient safe. That can include stopping them from driving, which is often "harder for patients to hear than a diagnosis of dementia."

She recalled one man whose family believed he was fine just driving to the supermarket, but when he was asked to draw his route to the grocery store, he drew a map of his childhood home in Ohio. That was when his family realized he should probably not be driving at all.

Lipton urged residents to seek support from professional caregivers when caring for their parents becomes too much or too personal, such as dealing with bathroom hygiene.

If something is not good for the caregiver, it is also not good for the patient, she said.

Respecting the caregiver is just as important as caring for the patient, she said.

Her husband, who worked for Southwest Airlines, told her that "the important thing to their success is not that they put their customers first, but that they put their employees first. If you put employees first, they will take care of your customers."

She also dispelled rumors: when one woman asked whether aluminum could cause Alzheimer's, Lipton said that is not true.

Many people worry whether dementia is hereditary. That is like asking whether heart attacks are hereditary, she said – to some extent, they are, but people can also take plenty of action to prevent them.

"What is good for the heart is good for the brain. If you are worried about getting dementia, do all that stuff that's a lot harder than taking a pill," she said, in reference to exercise, diet and other lifestyle habits.

Misplacing car keys, meanwhile, "doesn't mean you have dementia; it means you weren't paying attention," she said. "People with dementia actually have pretty good attention."

Lipton also made fun of the idea of doing crossword puzzles to keep memory active.

"I don't like doing crosswords," she said. "You have to pick an activity you love. Stress and frustration is not good."

Debra Hanley, community sales director at Brightview, told the audience she hoped Lipton's talk would be helpful.

"Dealing with dementia can be quite a struggle, but it can also be very rewarding and heartwarming," she said.