Caring for individuals living with Alzheimer’s disease, dementia, and other memory conditions may require learning new communication skills. If you are a caregiver or have a loved one living with memory loss, we hope these tips will help you to continue having meaningful, stimulating conversations with the person you love.
OFFER COMFORT AND REASSURANCE
There are times when individuals living with Alzheimer’s or dementia may find it difficult to express their thoughts or emotions. In moments like this, they may feel confused, scared, or frustrated. Remind them that you are there with them. A smile and offering words of comfort can go a long way in moving past a difficult moment. If your loved one’s feelings of frustration lead them to say something out of character or hurtful to you or another caregiver, try not to take it personally. Step out of the room for a moment if you need to and be kind to yourself. When you return, offer love, encouragement, and a reminder that you are there to support them.
Meet Them Where They Are
When an individual living with memory loss does not recognize their current environment, they might say, “I want to go home” or to another place or time that they once knew. Recognize that your loved one is feeling an emotional pull to that place or time. One comforting response could be, “Tell me about home.” Then let them tell their stories and ask questions about their lives and memories they have in that place.
Whether they are referring to their childhood home or to a home they shared with a spouse or their children, they are likely recalling comfort more than a physical structure. Join them as they revisit a moment or place that still holds so much meaning to them.
Additionally, hearing these memories may give you ideas for items to add to their surroundings, such as notes with specific quotes and phrases or hanging certain photographs that bring them joy.
Use An Activity to Stimulate and Engage
Using a fun activity, such as working on a simple cooking or cleaning task together, playing a familiar game, or even working on an art project (like adult coloring books) can be a great way to focus your conversation on the present moment and stimulate ideas and new topics.
Going for a walk, if your loved one is able to, or being outside in nature can be a refreshing and healthy activity that can spark conversations based on what you see in the world around the two of you.
Practice Patience and Repetition
When a loved one begins repeating specific questions or phrases, be patient by not interrupting them or telling them they are repeating themselves. This may start an unintended argument or may cause your loved one to not want to talk further. Instead, simply answer their question again, and then guide the conversation along by asking them a question regarding a fresh topic. Try engaging with your loved one by asking them to share stories, such as when they met their partner, what they were like as a teenager, or what they remember of their parents. However, sometimes it can be helpful to keep questions simple and easy to answer, like close-ended ‘yes’ or ‘no’ questions.
If there is information you would like them to remember, you may want to try repeating your answers and providing the same information to them multiple times. They will likely appreciate you reminding them of names, times, or specific details.
Having meaningful conversations when a loved one is living with memory loss may mean practicing new communication skills. If there are times you lose patience, be kind to yourself. Remember that the quality time you are spending together is what counts, and every day offers a new opportunity to build and strengthen your relationship.