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8 Tips for Keeping Connected to Those with Dementia

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Loved ones with dementia or Alzheimer’s benefit from interaction with others. Sometimes we may not know how to best communicate with those experiencing memory problems, which occurs with every form of dementia. Here are some tips for interacting with people with dementia:

  • Conversation with people with dementia will vary dependent on where they are; early stage versus late stage. A key issue with dementia is loss of the ability to plan, reason, and execute a plan. Thus if you ask a yes or no question and it requires reasoning, often the answer will be no, not because they are saying no, but because they cannot decide.
  • Keep conversations simple and stay away from questions except as it pertains to real time: Are you hungry, thirsty, or in pain? Keep each question as a single subject and then wait for an answer. Do not change the question, but if not answered, ask exactly the same question again.
  • Stay away from “do you remember?” In dementia, early on, people do know their memories are worsening, so asking this may increase their frustration.   When looking at pictures, ask what the person thinks is happening in the picture rather than asking them to try to identify the person. This taps into imagination and decreases the stress of trying to remember.
  • Try to keep the environment calm and free of lots of stimulation. When wanting to communicate, turn off the TV and help the person focus to the conversation. Over stimulated persons with dementia may become agitated, aggressive or withdraw.
  • As dementia worsens, the person’s world will get smaller. They often end up in a single room due to inability to cope with the wider environment. This tells you that more stimulation is not what is needed, but that there is an increase in fear due to unrecognized surroundings.
  • Do not yell, shame, or corner a person with dementia. They are adults and often that is known to them. Also, do not use reality orientation. If you ask them how old they are, they may give you a clue as to what period of time they think they are in. It is easier to go to their reality than to drag them into our reality.
  • If they have forgotten who you are, be who they think you are, or introduce yourself at every visit and who you are. If they have forgotten you, do not take it personally. They just cannot remember.
  • Engage the senses as dementia frequently affects left brain function first. Sensory experiences are in the right brain. Aromatherapy, massage, music, quiet environments, lower lights help.

About the Author:

Nancy Sterling Trimble, PhD, RN, CNP is a geriatric Adult Nurse with over 30 years of experience. She has served as a faculty member of Indiana Wesleyan University, Capitol University and Wright State University. Nancy has also contributed numerous articles to clinical publications.

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