It’s a beautiful day…
This morning’s discussions on the radio about the end of Summer and whether you take the astronomical or meteorological date as the official start of Autumn reminded me of a conversation with my dear Mum about this very subject. Mum’s dementia affected her speech to such an extent that I had to be very creative to engage in an exchange of ideas. It was the need to use all the senses as communication channels that inspired me to begin the ReminiScent journey….
On this occasion Mum and I were taking a short walk around the village were she lived. It was a pleasantly sunny day for the time of year, just like today. As we walked I admired the golden trees and noted the increasing number of leaves on the ground. Heading back inside, I commented to Mum that Summer was coming to a close and it would soon be Winter. She looked at me blankly – so I stopped in front of a young tree, pointed upwards to the yellowing leaves upon it and repeated my sentence more slowly. Still she looked at me blankly so I stooped, picking up a crisp golden brown leaf from the floor. Taking Mum’s hand I placed the leaf there and pressed it against her skin, repeating the sentence once more. This time Mum looked at me, looked down at the leaf and smiled. “Christmas” she said. Just one word but it was enough and I was so thrilled to have thwarted dementia to connect with her in a shared Autumnal experience that delighted Mum because she had understood me.
Communicating with people who live with dementia can be a challenge. For many families it feels frustrating and pointless. Nothing makes me more sad that hearing a person comment that they rarely visit a relative “because he\she never knows I’ve been anyway”. We need people to understand that dementia may well mean that the detail of a visit may well be forgotten almost immediately – but the feelings that the visit evoke will significantly impact that individual’s well being – so visits are always worthwhile.
Conversation and activity is the best way to stay connected with a person who is living with dementia. Below are a few tips to inspire you to keep relationships alive when dementia interferes. Your relationship is a vital part of your relation’s quality of life. Be inspired to keep it alive, even if they don’t remember your name, or know why you are there. You can still be a person with whom they feel safe or have a bit of fun.
10 Tips to help you communicate:
- Make eye contact & smile.
- Introduce yourself so that the person with dementia doesn’t have to work hard to place you.
- Remember that background noise can make it harder for a person with dementia to concentrate on what you are saying.
- Speak slowly and in shorter sentences. Always be prepared to repeat yourself patiently.
- Listen! Even if the story is one you’ve heard before, and before, and before…. Giving your attention is respectful and improves self esteem.
- Use multiple different ways to stimulate cognition; the sound of your voice, an image or artefact to look at, the feel, taste or smell of something. We can reinforce the concept we are trying to convey by using more than one sensory channel.
- If you struggle to know what to say, go for a walk, to talk about what you see, or bring conversational props with you. Topic cards are helpful and can be used as a game. A magazine or photograph gives a platform to launch a natter even if it is a bit one-sided.
- In a group, encourage the person with dementia to join in. If they talk, stop what you or someone else is saying to listen as otherwise they might forget what they want to say.
- Don’t say ” Do you remember?” It puts people living with dementia under pressure! Rephrase what you want to say to make a statement rather than a question.
- Never assume that someone doesn’t understand the conversation going on around them, even if they appear unable to join in. You’d be very surprised just how much a person will absorb from family chatter. In our family, we stopped talking to Mum about the day-today activities of our grown up children as we thought it too difficult for her to understand. One Sunday she was sitting in the kitchen when my son visited. As he greeted her as he passed by, she said ” Do you like it?” ” Do I like what Grandma?” he said, sitting down next to her. My jaw dropped as she said ” Your job?” No one had told her that my son had now left university – but most clearly she had understood the conversations we had between ourselves!