Research has confirmed that dementia doesn’t magnify traits, but in general can create wholesale personality changes. Don’t be surprised to find the person you are visiting is different than you remember. I hope you will continue to visit, dementia is isolating to those suffering from this disease.
- Begin with introductions. With a warm smile and relaxed posture, share a personal connection. Some suggestions that are helpful: “Hi FRIEND, It’s good to see you. You were one of the first people to welcome me into this community and it’s been a while since I’ve seen you” or “Hi FRIEND. It’s a pleasure to see you today. I was thinking about all the fun we had when we lived in Germany together — that was over 40 years ago! Our children played together so well.”
- Bring pictures. It will help your friend understand your connection better if you can share pictures of you together.
- Speak slowly, simply and pause to allow them to talk. Some individuals will feed off of your energy so focus on being relaxed and calm. Eye contact and direct interest is important.
- Ask what they are up to or any short-term memory questions. Short-term memory is the first to go and can set off emotions from frustration to anger and sadness if they are unable to answer the question.
- Expect them to “remember”. Be prepared to carry on a one-sided conversation.
- Correct jumbled memories. Allow your friend to share. Feel free to share how you remembered something, but don’t try to correct or debate facts.
- Show up with an agenda of what you are going to accomplish. Most people are lonely and want to enjoy the company and some conversation. Trying to get agreement or push on a topic can often lead to stress in the person with dementia.
The last don’t has been a new item for me. With my father gone, the normal routine we had has also left and now my Mom prefers to spend our time together reviewing her calendar or burial plans. We will discuss the day of the week over and over for a half hour, move onto the burial date and then go right back into the day of the week. I arrive knowing there is no agenda, and can easily sit with her with a smile on my face and calmly answer the same questions over and over until she feels more comfortable. This too will pass. Relaxed.
Here is a post that made me consider this topic. I’m frustrated that more people don’t use the umbrella term of “dementia” but it includes some good information in a longer format that you may find useful.