Dementia – How to Maintain Precious Connections

Dementia – How to Maintain Precious Connections

A dementia diagnosis in a friend can come as a devastating blow. One minute you have a relationship in which you are both equal partners, the next, you find the relationship has changed completely, and you must now take the lead in almost every respect. One of the most compassionate and loving things you can do for anyone suffering from dementia, is to continue to visit and chat with them. Conversation won’t be what it once was, but with a few gentle techniques, you can ensure your time together is relaxing and enjoyable. Here are some tips to get you started.

Skip the questions

It can be painfully difficult for a dementia sufferer to recall even the simplest details and facts. When they find they can’t, anxiety soon sets in, and the forgetfulness is exacerbated. That’s why it’s important to replace questions with statements. For example, instead of asking: “How are you today?”, make an observation such as: “You’re looking bright, today.”

Leave ‘Remember’ out of your vocab

Never use the word ‘remember’ (which, in fact, we use so often in conversation). So, instead of saying: “Do you remember that day we got stuck in the lift?”, rephrase it like this: “I was laughing to myself, today, about the time you and I got stuck in the lift.” It may well be that your friend will remember, and join in your amusement, but if they don’t, you haven’t put them under any pressure.

Never correct or debate

If, in conversation, your friend muddles details, don’t correct them (unless it’s to give them some reassurance they are looking for), and never debate an issue you know they are wrong about. Remind yourself they are doing very well even to join in with the conversation, and simply reply with a smile or an “I see” when they are obviously confused.

Discuss the immediate

Avoid conversation which demands recall by discussing something in the present (which your friend may need help with identifying). For example, say: “Those red roses I can see out your window are looking stunning. I wonder if they’re perfumed?” Such unchallenging comments will almost always illicit a response which can be followed up  – and suddenly, you and your friend are chatting like old times.

Drop hints

Many dementia sufferers will not be able to recall the most basic of facts, such as what time, day, or  season it is. As you chat, try to drop these, and other helpful ‘markers’, into the conversation. For example, instead of arriving and commenting on how warm it is outside, say: “Goodness, we’re having such a hot summer. It’s only ten o’clock in the morning and it must be 20 degrees outside already.” In the same way, recap on information, for example: “You’re hair’s looking nice. You’re so lucky to have someone come to your home to cut it.”

Prompt gently

Dementia sufferers often forget they have food or drink to consume, even when it’s in front of them. Instead of repeatedly pointing this out with a comment such as: “Don’t forget your tea and scone,” try: “Your scone looks delicious!” or “What a pretty tea cup you have. It looks like it would hold the heat well, too.”

Introduce a visitors book

When it comes down to it, a lot of conversation between friends is based on what family members and mutual friends are up to. A dementia sufferer is unlikely to remember such details, which is why it’s important for them to have a visitor’s book or diary close at hand. As visitors (family as well as friends) come and go, they can enter their visit into the book, perhaps making a note of a couple of things they chatted about. This allows the dementia sufferer to look back at who has called, and to know they are not alone. It’s also a great starting point for conversation for anyone visiting. For example, they simply pick up the book or diary and start with: “I see your granddaughter, Amy, popped in yesterday. How fabulous she passed all her school exams. I didn’t realise she wanted to be a chef!”

Whatever it takes to encourage conversation in a dementia sufferer, is worth pursuing. These are just a few tips. With patience, you are bound to come up with many others of your own.

You can read more about how to spot Dementia  and Positive Truths about Dementia