How to talk to someone with dementia
I’ve been asked a few times recently how does a person talk to someone with dementia?
My first response is always that they are still a person, that they are a person first, before they are their diagnosis! So how would you talk to a person without dementia and adapt from there!
That’s a bit blasé and dismissive, so what are the challenges? The person might not remember – well you can choose to remind them, but sometimes they can get more distressed being reminded of something that they had forgotten. I’ve had clients who have been told more than once why they haven’t seen their spouse for while – because they died, and that person just grieves time and time again. So if reminding them is going to make their life worse, probably best not to. If it is going to save their life, even though it may be distressing, probably better to tell them. So don’t let them eat things that aren’t safe, even if they have forgotten they aren’t safe to eat.
What about dealing with the issue of their understanding? You can try to explain something complex to them, but try explaining it in simpler terms. And the simplest of all, is that everything is fine and you will sort it out.
How do you chat with someone who doesn’t say much? There is nothing wrong is short answers, yes/no is still a response. I would suggest chatting about simple things, the weather, whatever they are eating / drinking, their past hobbies etc. It may look like talking to someone rather than with someone, but if they are paying attention, they it is a 2 way communication, they are contributing what they are able to.
How do you get over that they can’t remember what has been said? They don’t know that they have already asked that question, that’s why they are asking it, so answer it like it was the first time, it is for them!
What about if they don’t know who you are? It might matter to you that they know who you are, but they are not trying to be horrible to you, they know you are there and you are communicating with them. What impression do you want to leave, even if you only leave it for a short time? Do you want to be the sad person, who couldn’t look at them, or the angry person who was upset that they couldn’t remember? Surely it is better to be the lovely person who was kind to them!
So talk to them as far as you can as though they were normal, be patient and kind and whatever else they remember, they will remember you were nice to them.
People with dementia are still people and we all want to be treated with respect and kindness, that’s what I would suggest is a good way to talk to people with dementia.