At Autumn View Gardens memory care community in Ellisville, MO, our caring staff is always ready and willing to communicate with and care for residents. We do recognize, however, that our staff are specially equipped and trained to work with seniors who are dealing with cognitive impairment and memory issues.
When you’re trying to communicate with and spend time with your loved one with memory issues, it can be difficult to know how best to proceed. Whether you’re in a caregiving position or you have made the decision together that a memory care community is best for your relative, communication is still important. Check out some tips for more positive, rewarding communication for you and your loved one below.
Communicating with someone who has dementia or another memory issue can be frustrating. But consider this: It’s likely equally as frustrating to the other person.
They might be in the early stages of dementia, which means they’re aware they’re not remembering certain things. They may know they should know something but be unable to recall it. Constantly drawing attention to their memory loss can cause even more frustration and make them feel bad about potentially being a burden on the conversation or on you.
Even if someone is in a stage of dementia where they don’t realize they don’t remember that much or they don’t even remember you, it can still be frustrating to try to communicate with someone and find yourself unable to do so adequately.
By approaching communication with patience and understanding, you can increase the chance the person will be excited to engage with you. That reduces the chance that they withdraw and isolate — two things that are bad for physical, mental and emotional health for anyone.
Take proactive steps to create positive environments for yourself and your older loved one. When you’re both sitting comfortably, not hungry or not worried about moving on to some other scheduled task, it’s a lot easier to be patient and spend the time it might take to communicate. Consider setting aside an appointed time and place for such communication, and integrate enjoyable activities such as having coffee or sharing a meal, playing an easy game, putting together simple puzzles, cooking, reading aloud or engaging in crafts.
You can also give positive signals that encourage your loved one to communicate as freely as possible. Some tips can include:
• Making eye contact and being fully engaged
• Not looking at your watch, phone or other devices
• Nodding and giving other encouragements that you’re listing and understanding
• Asking questions
• Responding enthusiastically with your own information and stories, even if you don’t think the person will remember them later
Speak at an appropriate level for your loved one. This doesn’t mean overexplaining things as if they are a child or stupid.
However, if you’re talking with someone who is in a later stage of dementia and is having a hard time with short-term memory, you may want to avoid very complex information or anecdotes that involve stringing together several events or the actions of numerous people.
In some cases, the senior may be able to follow a complex story for a short period of time and have an enjoyable conversation about it, but they might not remember all or any of the information later. In this case, you might want to put information into context by explaining who people are or why you were at an event.
For example, you might have been to a wedding for a friend. Your older loved one might have met this friend recently and heard about the wedding before, but depending on their disease process, they might not remember any of that information. If you want to share something about the wedding with them, simply state, “I was at a wedding for a friend…” and then tell your story.
One symptom of dementia or other cognitive issues is a change in mood or mood swings. Someone who was always a reasonably calm and patient person might begin to be more aggressive or express more anger, for example. And even if your loved one doesn’t have these symptoms, they might get upset trying to communicate something to you while finding they don’t have the words to do so.
Redirection techniques can help put communication back on positive tracks. Changing your environment, bringing up a new subject or starting a new activity can all be options. But don’t just make the leap into a new topic or activity without communicating what you’re doing, or you might come across as uncaring. Let the person know that you see they’re frustrated or sad and ask if they’d like to move to doing something else or enjoy a cup of coffee or a walk outside.
In many cases, individuals who are struggling with short-term memory can still remember events and people from years ago very clearly. Talking about memories is a great way to engage your relative on his or her terms. Consider looking at pictures together as you discuss people and places they remember.
Bethesda Foundaion is not associated with the Bethesda Health Group of St. Louis, MO.