Communicate More Effectively with a Loved One Suffering from Dementia pt2
Updated: May 18, 2022
Someone suffering from a disease such as Alzheimer’s or dementia has an impairment on memory and other cognitive abilities and this can often lead to feelings of confusion, anxiety, anger, and even fear for that person. Unfortunately, explaining these facts doesn’t help to make the frustration go away. So interactions between a caregiver and a loved one suffering from one of these kinds of diseases can sometimes go sideways and become irritating for both caregiver and care recipient.
When these difficult situations arise, it is good to know effective strategies to help diffuse or redirect the interaction. Below are a few tips and strategies you might use to better care for your loved one suffering from dementia.
Respond with Reassurance and Warmth
Those suffering from dementia can often feel confused or anxious and can even sometimes confuse reality. It’s best to avoid trying to convince them they are wrong. Instead, it’s better to focus on the feelings that they are expressing. The feelings they show are real and should be acknowledged. Respond to them verbally and physically with expressions of comfort and reassurance. Things like holding hands, hugging, and words of affirmation will help the situation stay in a positive light.
How About A New Subject?
When an interaction starts to become heated or unproductive, try changing the subject or even the environment. A strategy you might use is referred to as “redirection”. Redirection is when you shift a distressed person’s attention away from whatever is causing them distress and to a more cheerful and positive emotion or situation.
If a loved one is insistent that something negative is happening, try to find the emotion behind what is happening and redirect that negative emotion into a positive emotion. For example, if a loved one is pacing around looking out of the windows explaining that someone might break in, you would note that their underlying emotion is one of insecurity. You can help redirect their feelings by asking them how you might help make them feel more secure.
Changing the setting or environment is also a great way to help redirect anxious or generally negative thoughts. If an interaction is occurring in the house, suggest that you go for a walk with your loved one, or even just out to the backyard. Sunshine is a great refresher and often the simple act of getting up and out can help relieve any tensions that may be arising. Looking up into the sky may also help refocus their thoughts away from any shortsightedness and keep them from tunnel visioning on problems.
Bring Back the Good Stuff
Many of those suffering from dementia cannot recall what happened 45 minutes ago, but they will easily be able to recall a memory from even 45 years ago. So a great activity for a positive interaction is remembering the past and bringing up happy memories. It’s best to avoid asking anything that relies on short-term memory, like asking someone what they ate this morning. Instead ask questions about your loved ones childhood, their first job, or what they liked about school when they were younger. This information is more likely to be accessible to them, and will give them an opportunity to express themselves.
Keep it Light, Keep it Funny
To keep the interaction in a positive light, it's best to try and use humor whenever you can. Just be sure not to use humor at the person’s expense. Even what you might consider a minor joke could greatly impact their mood and disrupt their emotions. Not only is humor a great way to keep an interaction positive, but it also helps your loved one engage their minds and helps provide mental stimulation. They might try to respond with the same kind of wit or even tell a joke of their own.