Oct 14, 2013

How To Visit a Friend or Acquaintance With Dementia

They didn’t know precisely what condition George was in, and they had no idea how to interact with him. Tom was now living with dementia.

By Marie Marley
+Alzheimer's Reading Room

How To Visit a Friend or Acquaintance With Dementia

Tom and his wife, Nancy, were going to visit George, one of Tom’s previous colleagues at the University of Cincinnati. This was their first visit to George at his long-term care facility and they were quite nervous.

They didn’t know precisely what condition George was in, and they had no idea how to interact with him.

What they knew for sure, however, was that they couldn’t visit the way they always had when the three got together.

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Tom was now living with dementia.

Family members or other very close loved ones who are accustomed to visiting may have a set routine and may have learned some or all of the tips below. But if you’re a friend visiting for the first time, or if you don’t visit the person very often, you may feel awkward and not know what to do.

An entire book could be written about this topic. I’m going to list some of the most important things to do, and things not to do, when you visit a friend with dementia either in their home or in a facility of some sort.

I have compiled these tips based on four sources, including an article of mine published on the Huffington Post, an article published by Carole Larkin here on the Alzheimer’s Reading Room, and personal communications from Teepa Snow (05.30.13) and Tom and Karen Brenner (10.03.13).

When I reviewed the sources I discovered that several tips were found in two or more of them. I discovered that the total of 25 items could be distilled down into ten:
  1. Start off by looking friendly, making eye contact, offering a handshake and introducing yourself (Snow, Larkin)
  2. Be at their level physically – bend down if necessary – for example, if they are in a wheelchair. (Larkin)
  3. Talk about the old times more than recent information (Snow)
  4. Don’t ask if they remember something (Marley; Larkin)
  5. Speak calmly, slowly and in short sentences (Larkin, Snow)
  6. Ask only one question at the time and pause between thoughts or ideas to give them a chance to answer. (Larkin, Snow)
  7. Don’t correct them or argue with them (Marley, Larkin, Snow)
  8. Keep memories positive. Don’t bring up topics that could upset them. Turn negatives into positives (Marley, Snow, Larkin)
  9. Do something with the person rather than just talking to them. Bring pictures, CDs of music the person used to enjoy, or other “props” (such as items related to one of the person’s special interests), to bring up old memories. (Snow, Brenners)
  10. Tell them what you are going to do before you do it – especially if you are going to touch them. (Larkin)
Following these tips should make you feel more at ease and make your visit more enjoyable.

Does anyone have any additional tips for visiting a friend with Alzheimer’s?

Sources of information for this article:

An article I published on the Huffington Post: 5 Things to Never Say to a Person With Alzheimer’s.

An article by Carole Larkin (http://www.thirdageservices.com) published on the Alzheimer’s Reading Room, entitled “Ten Tips for Communicating with an Alzheimer’s. Patient”. Carole is a Geriatric Care Manager in Dallas who specializes in helping people who have a loved one with dementia.

A handout provided to me personally by Teepa Snow (http://www.TeepaSnow.com) “Tips for Visits.” Ms. Snow is a nationally renowned expert on dementia caregiving.

A personal communication with Tom and Karen Brenner (http://www.brennerpathways.org/) “Top 3 Tips for Visiting a Person With Alzheimer’s.” Tom and Karen are authors of the new book, “You Say Goodbye, We Say Hello. The Montessori Method for Positive Dementia Care".
Marie Marley, PhD, is the award award winning author of, Come Back Early Today: A Story of Love, Alzheimer’s and Joy. You can visit Marie’s website at ComeBackEarlyToday.
A similar version of this article appeared on the Huffington Post.

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