Helpful Tips for Visiting Seniors with Dementia

Dementia is a gradual change in a person’s ability to communicate. In the early stages of dementia, the individual may have difficulty finding the right words or they may substitute incorrect words. Because the brain’s ability to process information is affected, individuals that struggle with the disease may also have difficulty interpreting their surroundings. In the later stages of dementia, the communication skills that were once taken for granted, are gradually lost.

This gradual change in the ability to communicate can lead the person with dementia to withdraw and likewise, a lack of understanding of the disease can cause frustration to those around them. There are many resources available to assist caregivers and family members of people who suffer with dementia.

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Following are helpful suggestions including tips from the Alzheimer’s Society, providing communication skills to help you understand each other in the most effective way possible.

  • If you’re meeting and introducing yourself to an individual with dementia, approach them from the front whenever possible. Address them formally as Mr. or Mrs. and when a relationship is established they may be comfortable with a first name basis.
  • Standing above the person can be intimidating; rather talk at the same level and maintain eye contact. This posture will help the person focus on you and on the conversation. Minimize loud music, television and other possible interruptions.
  • Keep the points of the conversation clear and concise, asking one question at a time and avoiding questions that require a complicated answer. Offering too many choices or asking the person why they don’t remember something can cause embarrassment and frustration.
  • Body language speaks volumes about your interest or lack of it. An individual with dementia may have trouble communication but they will recognize agitation in your movements or frustration in your facial expressions. Be patient - if they don’t answer your question right away, allow time and try not to rush them or make them feel pressured.
  • Never speak down to or talk over someone with dementia; no one appreciates being treated poorly or patronized and a person with dementia will not be oblivious.  
  • Do not interrupt the person while they are speaking and in situations where you know what they are going to say, do not finish their sentences for them.  
  • Allow the individual to express his or her feelings in the best way that they can during conversation. What they may need most from you at that moment is a listening ear and for you to show that you care.    
  • Try to avoid asking questions about the day - individuals with dementia may have an easier time remembering events of 40 years ago than what they had for breakfast that day.
  • Reassure the person that they have your attention - holding their hand during conversation may be helpful especially if the person has low vision. A reassuring hug or a word of praise will also reinforce a positive feeling.
  • People struggling with dementia may have difficulty remembering events with accuracy. If they believe that the year is 1955 avoid correcting them and trying to convince them of the exact calendar date. Focus instead on the topic and the feeling of the conversation, and offer support and reassurances in a non-condescending manner.      

One of the most important things for loved ones to remember is that while you may miss the person they once were, you need to embrace the person they are now in spite of the dementia.

Written by Alice Lucette

Photo credit: JustinsPhotos of Flickr

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