Conversation with someone suffering from memory impairment
or dementia can be pleasant for everyone. Let’s start from the beginning. There are a few things to remember when talking to someone with dementia or memory impairment. Remember, they are not crazy, they are not lazy and they are not intentionally being difficult. Even on days when they appear to be normal it is important to remember that they have a significant impairment. You cannot control what they say and do but you CAN control how you react. This may take considerable control and training on your part but in doing so you can avoid frustration and anxiety for yourself and the person with dementia/memory issues. It can be nail biting to hear someone ask the same question repeatedly. It is important for you to realize that not only do they not know they don’t remember, each time they ask the question, for them it is the first time. It is important to answer the question the same way and to do so in a kind and gentle manner.
Here are some tips to help you communicate with a person with dementia/memory loss. Don’t reason. A person with dementia cannot reason. Don’t argue. A person with dementia is not capable of seeing your side of things. Don’t remind them that they forgot. This causes anxiety for both of you. Don’t question a memory. Their reality is likely different than your own. Don’t take it personally. This may be the hardest thing to do. Remember that a person with dementia is not capable of thinking up plans to annoy, hurt or offend you. Social filters disappear when a person has dementia. It is easier to communicate if you Do give short, one-sentence explanations. When giving instructions, Do give your instructions exactly the same way each time. Remember that people with dementia have cognitive impairment. Do allow plenty of time for comprehension and/or a response. Don’t say but…Do say never-the-less. In other words, is does no good to try to reconcile statements. If they appear to make sense, go with it! If they don’t, go with it! Do agree with them. If you have to, change the subject or leave the room to avoid an argument. If a mistake has been made, Do accept the blame.
Words are often difficult to articulate. “Listen” to the feelings. Respond to the feelings not necessarily the words. Be very patient. Listen with your heart. Be cheerful. Be reassuring. Be gentle. Heighten your sensitivity. Be gracious. A gentle hand on the arm, a hug, a kind word, a sweet tone, a smile, all of these things can help communicate with a person with dementia.