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April 30, 2019

Patience is a virtue, especially when speaking with a person with dementia

The other day I talked with a new resident and learned where she was from, what she did before her retirement and her favorite activities. I helped her recall some of memories by asking a few questions, which she readily answered.

As we got deeper into our conversation, I noticed that she kept repeating herself and began asking me questions. At first I was pleased that she took an interest in me, and our conversation was not all one-sided, but soon I realized she was asking me the same questions over and over.

My first reaction was to say, “I already told you that,” which seemed to dismay her. And in reverse mode, she kept telling me her same stories, making the same statements and repeating comments she had already made.

At first I became annoyed and wanted to say, “You’ve already said that – pay attention”. One of our co-workers noticed that I was getting frustrated, and quietly whispered in my ear, “She has dementia.”

Recently I was with my sister who also has dementia, and my niece gave me some suggestions on how to handle it. I recalled those suggestions and put them into practice, and both the resident and I felt more comfortable as we continued our conversation. I’m passing these tips on to you to use whenever you are engaged in a conversation with someone with dementia.

  • Agree – never disagree. Accept whatever the person says—simply nod your head in agreement, or say, “I understand,” or something similar.
  • Divert—never reason. Trying to reason with the person is a no-win situation. It’s best to change the subject or divert her attention to something else.
  • Distract—never shame. It’s easy to say, “You’re not right,” but the best approach is to distract her by taking the conversation in a different direction.
  • Reassure—never lecture. Make her feel comfortable with what she’s saying and avoid trying to tell her what she should say or do. After all, it is a visit, not school!
  • Reminisce—never say “remember.” Paint the picture for her, but don’t ask, “do you remember that?”
  • Repeat things often. Never say, “I told you.” Just tell her again, and again if necessary.
  • Do what she can do—never say, “You can’t”. Encourage her to do what she wants to and can do.

These tips will make life easier for you and the person who has dementia. For more tips on communication with people with dementia, click here to visit Country Meadows’ tips library.

Judy Wolfman / Resident Author

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