Know what to expect.
Increase the likelihood of a positive visit by setting realistic expectations. The middle stages of dementia can be difficult. Sometimes people experience challenging behaviors such as delusions or anxiety, or they become easily upset. They might not be able to recognize you right away, or come up with your name. Knowing that these symptoms are part of the disease and not a reflection of the person’s relationship with you can help you to respond well to them and ensure that the visit is positive.
Maybe you think it should be obvious that you’re her favorite niece, but she might not be able to place you, and that can be distressing for both of you. Save her the possible embarrassment or awkward moment by introducing yourself right away.
Although your loved one’s memory is not what it used to be, don’t talk down to her or treat her like a child. She is an adult who has many life experiences, so in the midst of her confusion, make sure your respect if conveyed.
If the room you’re visiting in is noisy or busy, ask her if she’d like to go outside or down the hall for a quiet walk. You’re more likely to have a clear conversation with him if there are fewer distractions occurring around you.
Use clear statements and avoid slang.
Communicating with a loved one who has dementia is usually more effective when you use concrete statements or questions, rather than abstract language or slang terms. For example, rather than saying, “It’s no use crying over spilled milk”, say, “It’s ok, Aunt Sarah. That happened a little while ago and it’s just fine now.”
Bring some pictures to your visit.
If you have some pictures from years past, select a couple of them, or better yet an older album, and bring it along on your visit. Seeing pictures from long ago can trigger memories that are stored in the long term memory bank. Sometimes, people are able to recall specific names and events just by seeing a picture.
Even if the response you receive seems minimal, many individuals are reassured by seeing pictures that may be familiar to them, and paging though an album can provide a guide for your conversation.
Enter his reality.
If your friend has some paranoia or delusions, don’t try to convince him that what he’s hearing or seeing isn’t real. Provide lots of reassurances and distractions instead.
Not sure what to do when you’re visiting your dad? Consider singing with him, especially if he’s always enjoyed music. If music isn’t your thing, you can still bring some recorded songs with you to play for him. Music has the potential to stir memories and emotions, sometimes resulting in a person reciting all of the words to a song even when their ability to communicate has declined.
Arguing with someone who has dementia is rarely, if ever, beneficial. Even if she is completely wrong about something, you will accomplish very little by disagreeing with her.
When your loved one insists that it’s Tuesday and it’s actually Monday, your best bet is to go with the flow unless the issue is one of importance. If you argue with her, you will likely increase her agitation and frustration and still not be able to convince her.
Remember that emotion often lasts longer than the memory.
I’ve sometimes heard people write off visiting loved ones with dementia by saying that since they won’t remember the visit a few minutes from now, it’s pointless to visit.
Research has demonstrated that it’s not just the memory that matters here; it’s also the emotion created by a positive visit. What’s important to note is that the positive emotion from an encouraging and supportive visit can last much longer than the specific memory of that visit.
You may have impacted that person’s whole day by changing her feelings and behavior. Although she might not be able to recall that you visited her, the feelings you created in her can change how she interacts with others and improve her mood.
Next time you think it doesn’t matter, think again. The benefit of your visit might last long after you’ve gone.
Alzheimer’s Association. Communication and Alzheimer’s. Accessed June 20, 2012. http://www.alz.org/care/dementia-communication-tips.asp
Fisher Center for Alzheimer’s Research Foundation. Communicating with someone who has Alzheimer’s. Accessed June 20, 2012. http://www.alzinfo.org/08/treatment-care/communicating-with-someone-who-has-alzheimers
Wisconsin Department of Health and Family Services, Division of Disability and Elder Services, Bureau of Aging and Long Term Care Resources. Guidelines for Initiating Meaningful, Quality Home Visits With People Who Have Alzheimer’s Disease and Related Dementia. Accessed June 21, 2012. http://dhfs.wisconsin.gov/aging/Genage/ALZFCGSP.HTM