How to Connect With Someone Who Has Dementia
It can be challenging to know how to act around someone who has dementia. We have sympathy for them, of course, but that’s not always helpful. We know it’s not their fault. What we don’t always know is how to respond when they’re repeating themselves or confusing the past with the present. What behaviors should we ignore? And how can we help them when they become frustrated or even agitated?
Millions of people worldwide are affected by dementia, and there are various types of dementia that result in different behaviors. Dementia is the general term used to describe a decline in a person’s mental ability, such as memory loss. Alzheimer’s is the most common type of dementia, accounting for 60-80 percent of cases. Understanding what type of dementia your loved one has can help you better understand how to interact with them in a positive and supportive way.
Meet them where they are.
When talking to someone with dementia, it’s important to remember to meet them where they are. If they are repeating themselves or saying something that you know is false, let it be. Remember that what they’re feeling is very real to them. It’s not helpful to belittle their experience by correcting them or arguing with them.
Re-direct if they become agitated.
If you notice they are becoming frustrated or confused about something, try to re-direct them into focusing on something else. For example, if it’s 9 p.m. and they are talking about getting ready for their old job, you can say something such as, “Why don’t we have a snack or watch some TV first.” Re-directing their attention often eases the situation so you don’t have to correct them.
Ask them about their past.
People with dementia lose their short-term memory first. Instead of asking them about something that happened recently, have a conversation with them about the parts of their life that are clear to them such as their childhood or earlier adult life. It’s a great way to learn more about them, and it has the dual benefit of bringing them joy while you get to know them even better.
Establish a routine.
Routines are crucial for someone with dementia. If you’re a caregiver for someone with dementia, it’s critical to develop a routine. And when you can, leave helpful reminders like notes around the house to assist them in adhering to their routine. It’s also important not to make any abrupt changes in their routine, which can cause frustration and confusion.
Elderspeak is language that “talks down” to an older adult, speaking to them as if they were helpless or an infant. It’s important to speak to those suffering from dementia with the dignity and respect they deserve. We recommend calling them by their preferred name, and unless it’s appropriate, to avoid calling them pet names like “honey” or “sweetie.”
It’s important to stay calm when speaking to someone with dementia. Dementia is an invisible illness that can be difficult to understand from the outside. As with any other cognitive illness, practice patience and compassion for what that person and their family is going through.
Ask for support.
If you provide care for a loved one who has dementia and it becomes overwhelming, it’s important to reach out for professional support. Hiring qualified professionals that have years of experience providing care for individuals diagnosed with dementia or Alzheimer’s can not only improve their quality of life but improve yours as well.