When a loved one experiences dementia, communication can be challenging. As you never want to cause negative emotions or added confusion, how you communicate is important. Here are a few things to keep in mind when talking to someone with dementia, including the phrases to avoid.
"Do you remember…"
There's a chance that your loved one feels embarrassed when they have dementia. They know they're forgetful, and they don't want this put on display. If you ask them to remember something, there's a good chance they won't, making them feel sad, depressed, and confused.
While this phrase is used quite a bit in everyday life, having it slip is normal. But when you're spending time with your loved one with dementia, it's essential to leave this phrase out. As caregivers and family members constantly ask their loved ones about their memory, they don't realize this may be doing more harm than good. While you may want to "test" their memory, asking them to remember something can bring on more sadness and feelings of embarrassment.
Instead of asking if they remember something, explain what you remember. Begin the sentence by saying, "I remember when…". Starting by describing what you remember doesn't pressure your loved one to remember something, and it can even spark old memories for them — and many seniors love to reflect on old memories. Due to your loved one's condition, this is the best approach for discussing past events or happenings.
No one likes to hear these words — and it even makes some people pretty angry. When this is said to someone with dementia, it can be especially damaging. Experienced caregivers understand they should never say these words, but others may not be aware. If you've never dealt with cognitive decline in seniors, “You’re wrong” is a phrase to avoid as these words tend to spark tensions and emotions in dementia patients. At this point in their life, the less conflict they have, the better, so make sure you're always kind and supportive.
Changing the subject can help
While it can be difficult talking through disagreements with your loved one, it's best to change the subject. Even if your loved one makes a certain comment you disagree with, let it go and talk about something else. Changing their focus can get rid of those negative emotions.
"As I said…"
When you talk to someone with dementia, you'll probably need to repeat yourself on multiple occasions. However, you don't want your loved one to know that. If you constantly remind them that you're repeating yourself, that can only make them feel worse. That said, avoid starting sentences with "As I said…" or "I told you…". Your loved ones may know they're struggling, so constantly reminding them won't help anything. While it can feel repetitive and a little frustrating at times, having patience is critical with dementia patients. Keeping them calm, comfortable, and stress-free is the top priority.
Instead, simply repeat what you said
Instead of starting your sentences with "As I said," just repeat what you were going to say. Remember that forgetfulness isn't their fault, so don't punish them for not remembering. These phrases aren't needed, and they will only make your loved one feel worse.
"What do you want to do?"
When talking to or caring for a dementia patient, you always want to avoid open-ended questions. These can require a great deal of thought for your loved one, which could cause some discomfort and stress. This problem can get much worse if you ask them to recall a memory. Even a question such as "What do you want to eat?" can lead to confusion and worry, so try to avoid it.
Use more direct questions
Instead of asking open-ended questions, keep things more precise. Instead of asking what they would like to eat, be more direct and ask something like, "Would you like to eat a salad?" This question requires less thought, which is always encouraged with dementia patients. You want to keep the mental strain to a minimum.
"Your dementia is getting worse."
One of the worst things to tell a dementia patient is that their condition is getting more severe. Making this observation out loud can make your loved one feel extremely sad and depressed. It can also bring on feelings of shame and embarrassment.
Even if you want them to know about the progression of the disease, it's best to avoid this topic. If your loved one has a caregiver or physician you’d like to discuss the disease progression with, make sure your loved one isn't in the room for this conversation. These same depressive thoughts and feelings can arise if they overhear the discussion.
Instead, enjoy the time you spend with your loved one. Focus on having a good time together and helping your loved one feel calm and comfortable.
Talking to someone with dementia is never easy. If you have a loved one with this disease, follow the communication tips above to keep them calm and stress-free.