Apr 6, 2016

How to Talk and Converse in Dementia Care

By learning how to frame your responses you open up a lot of doors that will make it easier to talk with, and converse with, a person living with dementia.

Learning how to talk to people living with dementia | Alzheimer's Reading Room
When you work in dementia care setting you have to learn how to talk with, and converse with, people living with dementia.

Here are some examples based on my experience.

By Rachael Wonderlin
Dementia By Day

“Hey, honey,” Sandra asked me. “How long do I have to stay here tonight?”

“Hi, Sandra,” I said. “We have a great room here for you, so you can stay here as long as you like tonight. It’s also getting dark outside, so you might as well stay overnight with us.”

“Oh, that’s a good point,” she replied. “I think it’s best if I stay here today. Is that okay?”

“Of course!” I said. “We would love to have you.”

“Great,” Sandra smiled. “As long as it’s not an inconvenience for you.”

This is the type of conversation I have with many of my residents at our long-term dementia care community. My residents want to go home, but, of course, they cannot do that. Instead of making them feel like they are permanent residents, I change my mode of speaking.

I could say, “You live here now,” or, “You have a room here, don’t you remember?” but instead I present it like an option. I say, “Do you want to stay here with us?” and then provide some perks about staying.

This makes my residents feel like they have a choice, and, usually, they are more than happy to stay.

My residents do not have a choice in the matter, but they do not know that. My residents, just like anyone else, want to feel as though they have the ability to make decisions for themselves. They want to feel like they have some autonomy.

I do this even when I bring my residents to activities or events at our community. “Do you want to come help me with something?” I’ll ask. Sometimes I will say, “Can you come sit with me?”

Everyone wants to be helpful, and everyone wants to feel needed. Instead of telling someone to “come with me,” I ask. I present it like an option, and things go much more smoothly.

Talking to people with dementia can be challenging, but it goes a lot smoother if you learn how to frame tough conversations the right way.

People with dementia are still people.

Your parents with dementia are still your parents—they didn’t want you telling them what to do forty years ago, and they certainly do not want you telling them what to do now.

By making the decision to frame your responses as questions or options, you open up a lot of doors that will make it easier to talk to people with dementia.

Rachael Wonderlin also writes and answers questions at Dementia By Day.

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