Tips for Coping: Communications

Pamela Atwood, MA, CDP, Director of Dementia Care Services, Hebrew Health Care

That is the first thing I tell the caregivers of people with memory loss.  And it is human nature, our gut instinct. We think, “Maybe they are better today” or sometimes, “Is it a good day or a not so good day?” and we test the memory by quizzing people.

“What did you do at Day Center today?”
“What did your aide make you for lunch today?”

Unfortunately, these quizzes have two negative effects: we feel sad when the person with memory loss cannot answer correctly, and the person feels stupid or crazy. Instead of quizzing, make statements about the present moment like, “I’m sure you must have had a full day at the center. Are you tired now or would you like to help make supper?” “It’s been a long time since your lunch. Would you like something to drink?”

Here are some other basic rules for communicating with someone with memory loss:

Be “argue-free.”
There is no point in arguing. If the person says something incorrect or something you know to be untrue, let it go. It only makes things worse if you argue.

Point out remaining strengths.
Avoid criticizing or correcting. If people with memory loss become unsure of themselves, they can have more problems with communication. Compliments go a long way (regardless of memory loss!).

Focus on the emotions, not the words.
If someone excitedly says, “There’s my sister!” when she should have said “daughter,” let go of the mistake and support the happy moment: “Isn’t it fantastic to see her!”

Watching someone with memory problems struggle with communication is painful for caregivers and family members. It requires patience and support. For more information on communication tips or to join our support group call us at (860) 920-1810.

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