Time To Talk: How To Converse With A Dementia Sufferer
There is nothing wrong in acknowledging that trying to talk to someone living with dementia can be occasionally problematic. It’s not anyone’s fault; not the sufferer, and not you. There’s no harm in acknowledging that it’s an arduous task at times.
It’s easy to see why this is the case, too. Dementia is often characterized by the idea of someone being forgetful on occasion; rarely do we see TV show or movie depictions which shown the other side of the picture. Of course, as anyone with an aging parent recognizes, this is just the beginning of the deterioration. You can often find yourself stuck for things to say when you talk to them, as their ability to follow a thread becomes impaired. You might find yourself frustrated that you can’t chitchat the way you used to; that’s a normal feeling, so don’t beat yourself up about it.
There are a few things you can do to make the conversation flow and ensure that your relationship is able to survive even with a dementia diagnosis. First, let’s focus on a few things you shouldn’t do…
There is a tendency for dementia patients to mix together fact and fiction. It’s not something that they are doing deliberately; they are not telling tall tales for the sake of it, they have just lost the ability to differentiate between truth and reality.
This can be a real problem when it comes to elder abuse, which can often be overlooked due to fabrications. For example, you might have experienced your loved one telling people they have been abused. You, of course, were on the phone to the first nursing home abuse lawyer you could find while speed-dialing the police with your other hand. It’s then revealed that your loved one’s idea of “abuse” in this context is just being helped to bathe or other such situations they no longer recognize as normal. When this happens, it can be incredibly difficult to strike a balance between over- and under-reacting.
So don’t instinctively mistrust something you are told by a loved one with dementia, just try and calmly ask them to explain what the actual issue is. So what else should you do?
Focus On Feelings
If you try and continue a conversation on a factual level (such as discuss current affairs), then you can quickly run into problems. Instead, stick to discussing emotions, such as “I felt happy when the sun was out” and why that felt so nice. Feelings are much easier for dementia sufferers to recall, so they will be able to both relate to what you’re saying and continue the thread with far more ease.
There’s no need to encourage a dementia patient to make decisions or speak faster – it’s absolutely useless and will just make you feel more frustrated. If you accept it’s going to take longer for them to get to their point, then it should help to relax you as you’re not constantly going to be expecting speed. It’s outside of what they can do, so try and let it go, even practicing a few breathing exercises to keep you calm if necessary.
Keep these things in mind and you should, over time, become better and better at conversing with those with dementia. Good luck.