Dementia: Connecting through Communication
Recently, a friend asked me “If you could have dinner with anyone dead or alive, who would it be?” Without hesitation I said “My Meme and Poppy.” Those are my dad’s parents. We were very close and they had great stories and were very knowledgeable about a lot of subject matters, especially life. I always turned to them for guidance and advice.
When someone is diagnosed with dementia, we often believe they lose the ability to guide us, teach us, or tell us stories but on the contrary, we just have to alter the way we communicate with them to encourage those same interactions we had before dementia.
- Give open ended, yet specific requests.
Asking something like “Tell me how you met Dad/Grandpa.” You’re asking for a specific story but leaving it open ended for them to discuss which part they’d like to share about you. To be even more open ended you can ask “Tell me about your relationship with Dad/Grandpa.”
- Ask for advice but limit the details you provide.
Perhaps you’re fighting with a friend and you’d like some advice. I always found the best advice my grandparents gave was general and not specified to a certain situation. For instance, you could ask “What would you do if you had a friend you no longer trusted?” or “What would you do if your friend lied to you?”
- Infer advice from stories or answers
Being a “detective” is one of my favorite parts of my job. Having to learn a new language, read body language, or simply get a lot out of a little, is exciting for me! A person with dementia will either give a very brief answer or a long-winded answer. It will be up to you to infer the advice from the story. Don’t over think it! Some people are storytellers while others are black and white. I have a friend who is extremely black and white in his thinking and another friend who tells a story for each piece of advice she gives but both are always spot-on with their advice. It is up to me to either take it at face value or read between the lines.
Remember that people with dementia are still people. They have life experiences, feelings, and are incredibly intelligent. Our relationship changes but it does not have to end.
What other tips have worked for you? What challenges do you have?