Many of us have loved ones with dementia that we want to spend time with, but aren’t sure how to talk to them. The Alzheimer’s Association has these suggestions for you:
Greet them warmly even if you think they do not remember you. If they seem confused, remind them who you are.
Slow the pace of conversation slightly and allow time for the person to process and respond.
Speak clearly and calmly; be patient and understanding.
Keep communication simple; ask one question at a time.
Listen with empathy and try to understand the person’s reality or feelings.
Connect on an emotional level even if conversation topics shift or do not make sense to you.
Be aware of the person’s and your body language: smile, make eye contact at eye level.
Enjoy spending time with the person in the present moment.
Offer hugs and hand-holding as appropriate.
Avoid arguing with or embarrassing the person. I remember when my mom first started experiencing dementia and she would ask the same question over and over again. My first reaction was to tell her that I’d already told her that and then tell her again. You need to get over that and realize that they’re not repeating questions on purpose. They just can’t remember. It’s not doing you any good to get upset about having to repeat yourself. So, take a deep breath and give them the answer for the second, third – or hundredth time – with some patience and humor.
Treat the person with dignity and respect.
Unsure if you or someone you know has dementia? There is a difference between age related forgetfulness and dementia.
- Forgetting what day it is and remembering it later is normal, losing track of the season is not.
- Having to search for a word is normal, not being able to carry on a conversation is not.
- Having a bad mood is normal, a persistent change of personality and mood is not.
- Not knowing where you are is not normal.
Reversible conditions—dehydration, thyroid issues and vitamin deficiencies, urinary tract infections among others— can cause symptoms similar to dementia.
If you suspect that you or a loved one is showing signs of dementia, the first step is to see a medical doctor who can make an assessment, possibly provide a diagnosis and make referrals to specialists such as a neurologist who can provide further information and care.
Early detection is vital. Going to the doctor as soon as you or your loved one suspects dementia can speed access to essential treatments and other resources that may slow the progress of dementia and extend the period of time individuals living with dementia can stay in their homes and communities.
After receiving a dementia diagnosis, many people want to learn all they can about what living with dementia means. Because symptoms of dementia change over time, an individual’s needs change depending on the stage of dementia they are in. Resources available from the Alzheimer’s Association, Dementia Friendly America and others help people with dementia continue living independently in their own homes and communities they’re familiar with.