When a parent is diagnosed with dementia, it puts immense pressure on both of your shoulders as you try to understand what’s happening and struggle with the limitations facing both of you. Undeniably this is a challenging time and will become more so over time. However, there are things you can do to keep the connection with your loved one as strong as possible, which will hopefully ease the pressure that you face in getting your parents to the doctor, gaining their cooperation, convincing them to take a shower and brush their teeth, and communicating with them.
There are a variety of communication strategies that you can try out that can make talking to a parent with dementia easier. Even in the advanced stages of Alzheimer’s disease or other disorders, when speech may become difficult, you can use gestures, songs, photos and videos to keep the ‘conversation’ going with your parent.
Your parent might have trouble with words in terms of finding the right word, using a familiar word repeatedly, being unable to arrange words logically, all of which depends on the stage of dementia your parent is in. Remember, dementia can affect someone differently depending on time of day and other factors. So, there’s no use making an assumption what a conversation will be like before it begins.
Here are some communication strategies for dementia:
Address your parent by name– First and foremost, when you are about to start off with a conversation start by walking toward your parent from the front, so they aren’t caught by surprise. It’s easy to fall into the habit of speaking to your loved one as a child, but do not talk down to them, address them by their name by looking them in the eye. Then, get to their eye level, sit if he/she is sitting instead of standing looking down on them. Try and bring humor into your conversation.
Listen– Give your parent the chance to express his or her thoughts and feelings; don’t interrupt. Just take part in whatever topic they’ve chosen.
Don’t Argue– Don’t push, nag, or argue with your parents as doing so will only get their backs up, and yelling, arguing or slamming doors, which could seriously develop cracks in the relationship.
Keep distractions away– Sit close to your loved one and speak slowly and clearly, and try to find a quiet place to converse with mom or dad, as peripheral noises, music and voices can be confusing and might induce anxiety. It is equally important that you keep what you say short and to the point. Steer clear of asking open-ended questions, such as “What do you feel like doing this afternoon?” It’s best to make a concrete suggestion instead “Do you want to listen to some music?”
Practice Patience– Losing your patience with your parent will only lead to anxiety and will make any situation much worse. If they struggle for a word, try not to fill it in for them or finish sentences, have patience and wait for their response.
Get Active– Do activities together, such as go for a walk or take them for a drive. Find things they like to do.
Use Tech– If the visit is not in person, set up a video chat instead of making a phone call. It’s easier for someone with dementia to respond to a face than a faceless voice.
Communicating with a loved one who may not know who you are or who may not speak is bound to be difficult, more so when the relationship is long distance and you are speaking over the phone. But with video chat technology in place and a little bit of preparation beforehand, you can easily overcome some of these challenges. Even if you can’t bring yourself to say something, that’s okay, just be there with your parent, which in itself will communicate your love.
Take it as a new chapter in your life. With a little understanding and finding new, positive ways to communicate, you will find it easier to push beyond the difficult moments and make the most of the good ones. Of course, there are assisted facilities that offer specialized memory care programs for dementia patients that you can consider, or can consider joining a dementia support group which will give you the chance to share your worries and concerns with others who understand, first hand, your challenges.