Some degree of memory loss is a typical aspect of aging, but not all forms of memory loss are the same. The National Institute on Aging states that memory and overall cognition in seniors can range from mild forgetfulness to dementia and Alzheimer’s disease. For someone with dementia or Alzheimer’s disease, memory and overall cognition can even range day-to-day; there will be days when a person is more lucid and focused than others. On the “good” days, memories can serve as an important part of identity, and connect a person to the people they love and share a history with. On the “other” days, memory loss can be stressful and disorienting for both seniors and their friends and families. Feeling confused, or at a loss, when trying to communicate with a friend or family member with memory loss or dementia is normal, but you don’t have to avoid them or keep your conversations superficial. The solution lies somewhere between the past and their present abilities on any given day.
4 Tips on Communicating with Someone with Memory Loss or Dementia
No two seniors will experience memory loss or dementia quite the same way, but their caregivers can employ these universal strategies to foster meaningful bonds and conversations each day.
Follow Their Lead
Maybe you had a great week at work or school, and you can’t wait to share the news of your big promotion or accomplishment with the person you care about who has memory loss or dementia. Maybe you have a list of topics and stories to discuss with them during your visit, only to find once you’re there, that they are more forgetful than usual, distracted, moody, or uninterested in the conversation. Or perhaps the opposite is true. Maybe you went into the visit with limited expectations, but found them alert, active, and engaged.
Memory loss is unpredictable. During visits, it’s important to remain flexible and ready to meet your loved one “where they’re at.” If you’re not sure where to start, begin by asking about their everyday life and routine. Listening is an important tool for caregivers, even if the conversation doesn’t entirely make sense to you or follow a linear pattern. They may be fuzzy on the details but feeling heard is an important aspect of fostering connection and a sense of safety and security.
Help Them Fill in the Blanks
It is common for those with memory loss or dementia to misremember or forget details when they tell a story or recall an event. It is equally common for caregivers to try filling in the blanks to provide clarification. This act can help jog the memory of someone with memory loss or dementia; however, it is important to use discretion, and not get hung up on correcting every inaccuracy. Remember that spending time together, and active listening, is ultimately more important than getting every detail correct in conversation.
Use Visual and Verbal Cues
Memories may fade, but old photographs and letters can last forever. These items, as well as old artwork and articles of clothing, can help someone with memory loss or dementia connect to their past. During your next visit, offer to go through old photograph albums or letters, and listen to whatever stories they inspire. Express interest in their friends and neighbors, and whatever hobbies and activities they currently enjoy. Make eye contact. Hold their hand if it feels appropriate. Even on the days they prefer to sit in silence or watch TV, your presence can still provide comfort.
Don’t Take it Personally
There may be times when the person you care for doesn’t remember you or significant details about you and your relationship, depending on the degree of their memory loss or mental decline. It’s possible they could even behave aggressively towards you, or they may not want to see you at all some days. Although this is understandably painful, it is important to remember these behaviors are not personal and are not an accurate reflection of their feelings for you. These behaviors are a side effect of the disease. Remember to take advantage of resources and support groups for caregivers and family members living with a person experiencing memory loss and dementia.
While it’s normal to sometimes feel confused or have difficulty when trying to communicate with a friend or family member with memory loss or dementia, you don’t have to avoid them or keep your conversations superficial. By employing these universal strategies, you too can foster meaningful bonds and conversations each day with your loved one suffering from memory loss, dementia, or Alzheimer’s disease. By keeping these key tips in mind, the time spent together can still be rewarding for you both.
To learn more about SALMON Health and Retirement’s Memory care support for seniors and families, contact us today.