The relationships we have with others form a central part of our identity. However, these relationships change with someone living with dementia. As the disease progresses, we need to change our approach and still work to mitigate the possibility of social isolation.
Those living with dementia may find it difficult to recall friends and family and the many shared memories created with them. Although they may forget, it is important to continue to visit them as social isolation will still lead to loneliness. Socialization may even slow the progression of dementia.
Here are some tips on how to spend your time together:
- Focus on the present. If you focus on your current environment by engaging them with new tastes, smells, and things to touch. Do not quiz or force their memory. If conversation is tough, try singing, playing an instrument, or even dancing. You can share a moment without having a long conversation in words.
- Make them feel needed. Even though they are living with dementia, they still need to contribute. Give them a task to do so they feel helpful rather than a burden.
- Watch your voice tone and connotation. Just because they are living with dementia does not mean they do not have feelings and emotions. If they do not respond, it does not necessarily mean they did not understand what you said. If you hurt their self-esteem or dignity, there may be a backlash.
- Although you want to make them feel needed, keep tasks simple. Focus on one topic at a time. If you are offering choices, try to limit them to two or three. Open ended questions are particularly difficult as the diseases progresses. If they get lost in conversation, you can gently remind them by continuing the conversation instead of pointing out that they forgot.
- Use names with the relationship. For example, instead of just saying “your son” or “Michael”, say “your son Michael” is coming to visit today.
- Watch your body language. This includes your face. Your faces and expressions can indicate that you are not being genuine in your messaging. The person will pick up on this and can react adversely if your overall message is not consistent.
- Minimize external distractions that may exist in the background of your conversation. Spending time together in the right environment can make all the difference when you are visiting a loved one with dementia. Try talking in a comfortable, quiet place, and avoid any other noises which could be coming from a TV or radio. If you position yourself in their line of vision and stay still while you are talking, you will help make the conversation easier to follow.
Remember, the amount of time you spend visiting a loved one with dementia can make all the difference in their quality of life. As we live through quarantine, consider the overall quality of your loved one’s life. Consider companionship options with certified nursing assistants who can assist with care as the disease progresses. Continual social interaction will help improve the quality of life for those living with dementia, with earlier intervention being more rewarding.
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