Our friends from the Alzheimer’s Association
led an information session for Mon Ami Companions focused on effective strategies for communicating with a person living with dementia. Below are the top tips and best practices from the session that you can implement when visiting someone with dementia.
#1: Practice Saying Less
Avoid reasoning or over-explaining things. Sometimes phrases like “I will look into that,” “I wondered about that,” “that’s an idea,” or “tell me more” are more effective than a long-winded explanation.
#2: Find a Way to Say Yes
When responding to an individual’s requests, try saying “yes”, “sure”, or “okay” even if you know cannot fulfill that request. For instance, if a visitee continues to ask to see their parent (even if their parents are deceased), you might respond by saying, “Sure, I will look into that,” and then redirecting the conversation to a different topic. Another example is to say yes to their request and redirecting by asking if they want a cup of tea. A nice tip is to maintain eye contact and have your arm out to stay connected as you walk away.
#3: Redirect the Conversation
Sometimes it’s necessary to redirect a conversation in order to avoid conflict and agitation. For instance, if you are visiting someone and they ask, “Where is my car?” instead of saying, “you don’t drive anymore” or “you don’t have a car,” you could say “I’ll look into that. In the meantime, maybe we can go pick up whatever it is you need.” You’ve acknowledged their need while also redirecting the conversation.
#4: Don’t Be Shy About Asking for Forgiveness
If your visitee is getting agitated or accusatory, don’t be shy about saying “I’m really sorry, I won’t do that again.”
#5: Connect with Their Emotions
When speaking to someone with dementia, use a calm voice, maintain good eye contact, and try to express genuine interest in them and their interests and concerns. There is no substitute for a genuine emotional connection with your visitee.
#6: Remember Everyone is Different
Remember that the symptoms, abilities, and behaviors of individuals suffering from dementia can vary from day to day, person to person, and situation to situation. What may be a good approach during one visit might not be effective during your next visit.