By Ellen Scott (Metro UK 15 Mar 2018)
It’s not easy when a relative or friend is diagnosed with dementia.
You’re not quite sure how you need to behave, how much you’ll need to change, how gentle you need to be.
You worry that your relationship will struggle.
All the nerves and confusion can make us clam up in fear, distancing ourselves to avoid doing the wrong thing.
That’s a mistake. Not only will it make the person with dementia feel isolated, but you’ll be losing the lovely relationship you once had just because you weren’t sure what to do.
The best approach: Learn what you can, be patient, be kind (to them and to yourself), and don’t panic if things are different or don’t go to plan. It’ll be okay.
To help make that first step – conversation – easier, we chatted to Chris Salter, the group support manager at Forest Healthcare. He’s shared ten tips to help make chatting to someone with dementia more comfortable.
- Use eye contact
This will make the person feel at ease.
Lower yourself to the person’s level and talk to them at a distance, so you’re not intimidating them. No one likes an invasion of personal space, but this can be especially overwhelming when you have dementia.
- Don’t interrupt or try to complete their sentences
Stay patient and calm, and give the person as much time as they need to respond to questions.
Jumping in and trying to rush what they’re saying might seem like you’re helping out, but it can break the flow of conversation and cause confusion.
Plus, it’s likely to make the person feel frustrated, as it draws attention to the struggles they’re having.
- Use things to jog their memory
Think photo albums, music they love, or items of clothing – anything they might connect to happy times.
Don’t push too hard if something that means a lot to you doesn’t trigger any memories. It’s not a personal slight, they simply can’t help it.
Stay calm, try again another time, and take joy in the moments they do remember.
- Try to stick to one idea at a time
Don’t jump around different topics or ask complex questions – it can be overwhelming.
Ask easy questions that have a ‘yes’ or ‘no’ answer or choices to choose from.
- Encourage them to join in conversations with other people
The more they talk to people, the easier it’ll get – and the more comfortable they’ll feel having chats.
There are plenty of social clubs specifically for those with dementia, that’ll provide safe, social environments to connect with other people and reduce loneliness.
- Speak clearly and slowly, using shorter sentences
We know, it’s tricky to break out of the habit of mumbling and rambling, but it’s crucial.
Speak up, enunciate, and go slowly. It’ll make it a lot easier for the other person to understand – and it’s a good habit to get into regardless.
- Never patronise them
It’s awful to speak about a person with dementia as if they’re not there, or to talk to them as you would a child.
They’re still the same person you knew, they just have some new difficulties. Be respectful.
- Get rid of background noise
It’s hard for anyone to engage in conversation if there’s loads of background chatter, but especially so for people with dementia.
When you need to have a chat, turn off loud TV or radio so the person won’t get confused or lose their train of thought.
- Use their name
Refer to their name and use it often – it’s a way for the person to connect and stay focused.
- Don’t panic if there are silences
It might feel awkward for you, but many people with dementia won’t actually notice the silence.
It’s okay if there’s a long pause or if conversation trails off. Again, be patient, and if talking isn’t working listen to music or watch a film together – you don’t have to be non-stop chatting to spend time together.