Though your loved one has moved to Memory Care, they still need the love and support of their family. Consider these strategies for communicating and connecting at various stages of dementia—from writing notes and addressing your loved one by name to focusing on nonverbal cues and simplifying activities to the sensory level.
Consider your approach.
Whenever you communicate with your loved one, make sure you approach them from the front. Tapping them on the shoulder or making any unexpected contact could startle and upset them. Instead, get their attention by addressing them (e.g., Mom, Grandma, or by name). If necessary, introduce yourself each time you visit, so they won’t feel pressured to remember.
As you chat with your loved one, make it easy for them to follow the conversation. Continue to address them by name, and avoid using pronouns (he, her, them, etc.) when mentioning other people. Be specific and refer to people by name at every opportunity.
Make sure they can see and hear you.
If your loved one wears glasses, make sure they are on when you speak with them, so they can see you clearly. Maintaining eye contact will also help them focus. If they have hearing aids, ensure they are in and turned on. Be mindful to speak at an appropriate volume—there is no need to shout—and avoid environments with competing noise.
Write it down.
Some days, conversation may be too stressful for your loved one, or it may be easier for them to process information that is written rather than spoken. Try writing them notes to remind them of things, or just to tell them you care. If they respond positively to the written word, keep the notes coming.
Obviously, dementia symptoms can be extremely frustrating for your loved one. If they feel unsettled, remind them you are there and that you will help. If they are comfortable with physical touch, you can hold hands, put your arm around them, and give plenty of hugs.
Watch your nonverbal cues.
The further your loved one’s dementia progresses, the more important nonverbal communication becomes. Smiling, maintaining eye contact, and nodding are all good ways to show your parent that you are present and to help them feel at ease. Those with dementia are often aware of body language and tend to mimic the cues they see. If your loved one detects anger, impatience, or frustration, they might mirror back and respond with those same negative emotions. Instead, use your body language to show you care.
Engage the senses.
Even in the end stage of dementia, seniors have their five senses intact and can respond and engage with anyone who stimulates them, says Kim Warchol, president of Dementia Care Specialists, a specialized offering of the Crisis Prevention Institute. She shares a story of a woman who once enjoyed gardening. Though her family thought she was already “gone,” Warchol knew the experiences of gardening were in her long-term memory, so she brought a rainmaker, a fake bird in a cage, and lavender lotion to massage the woman’s hands and stimulate her senses. “She was smiling and tracking; her eyes were fixed on me,” says Warchol.
Like anything else in life, dementia is not linear. One day may be better or worse than the next. Be patient with your loved one through the ups and downs. Ride out the hard times together, and enjoy the sweet moments of clarity and joy.
CHIME IN: How do you handle hard days with your loved one in Memory Care?