Conversations with Elderly Loved Ones With Dementia
How do you have a conversation with a parent or other elderly loved one with dementia? This is a person whom you probably have known most of your life; yet the dementia makes them seem like a shell of the person you once knew. This awkwardness can often create a silence or tension that’s unhealthy for everyone.
It’s not easy to understand how to speak to someone with dementia. Many times certain subjects, comments, or times can present issues with the person afflicted with dementia; causing unwanted confrontation and melt downs.
Tips on how to talk to someone with dementia.
- Speak clearly & avoid talking to the person as if they are a child.
- Have patience with the person; they may be as frustrated & confused as you are when trying to have a conversation.
- Know when the best times are for the person. It is quite common for people to suffer from “Sundowning” or “Sundowners Syndrome”, in which the person with dementia becomes increasingly agitated and confused at the end of the day and on into the evening. These 7 Tips for Reducing Sundowners may also help you. Understanding when the person’s “good time” is will be very beneficial in what types of conversations you have & when you have them.
- Try not to challenge them when they are wrong about something. It is inevitable that at some point they will say something that is incorrect; however, if it’s not something of importance it’s not worth getting upset over or causing them to get upset then simply allow them to be wrong and move on.
- Get professional help. A professional Geriatric Care Manager can be a great source of help and wise counsel. GCMs are experts in the field of geriatric care and offer assessment, advice and planning, and supervision.
- Avoid distractions. It’s important that you understand that the mind of a person with dementia does not allow for complicated thinking. This means don’t expect them to carry on a conversation and play a game with you at the same time.
- Enjoy the time with the person without having any expectations. Sometimes you can simply enjoy the scenery or a fish tank without talking.
- Use non-verbal cues like smiling. Depending upon the person and how they react to being touched you may want to put a hand on theirs or give them a small kiss on the forehead to show some affection. These non-verbal cues can put them at ease.
- Understand you will have good days and bad days. Some days may simply not be a good day to have a conversation with your loved one. Dementia doesn’t have a schedule.
- Expect delays in the conversation. Sometimes it may take longer for those with dementia to answer a question.
- Use names during the conversation & avoid terms like “he” or “they.” Remind them of who you are by making subtle comments using your name. This is especially important in the later stages of dementia when people no longer recognize faces.
- Don’t feel the need to fill every moment with conversation. It can be challenging for them to comprehend everything that is being said and very overwhelming if you talk continuously. People will often do this out of the nervousness of the silent moments; however, remember that silence can be golden.
- You don’t have to do this alone. Pace yourself and don’t try to be Superwoman or Superman. Seek “respite care” from a local in-home care agency, which can provide professional caregivers to take over while you take a break for your own mental health.
- Stimulate their mind. Replace days of conversation with moments of light mind stimulating actions. There are products created specifically for those who have dementia such as larger puzzles, word searches, books, card games and so much more.
- Avoid placing your loved one in crowds of people who are talking. In most cases this is very confusing for a person with dementia & can over stimulate them to the point of frustration.
- Add music to their day. Many studies have been done on music and dementia (or those with Alzheimer’s based dementia) that show music can have a calming affect.
One of the hardest things that comes with having a loved one who suffers from dementia is realizing that dementia gets worse with time. You will have to make adjustments to how you interact with them throughout the rest of their life. However, understanding that their mind is unable to comprehend and think like they once did is the first step to knowing how to talk to someone with dementia.
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