Dementia and Communication- How Can You Connect?
When someone has dementia, it can be really hard to connect. You may be used to asking Dad for advice. And now, he is no longer able to help. Your roles have changed. Mom may no longer seem interested in your life. She doesn’t ask about the grandchildren and may even seem indifferent when you talk about them.
Step #1- Accept and Grieve
This is the hardest step. But it is one every family who has a member with dementia must take. You have to accept that your loved one has changed. They are no longer able to do the things they used to. Furthermore, they may not be able to communicate like they used to. In fact, the person you once knew is gone. But that doesn’t mean the person you love is. They are still here. And they have taken a different role.
But you have to grieve that loss. And then you have to accept that even though their personality may be vastly different from what you remember, the essence of who they are is still there. Once you can accept where they are today you will be able to open up a new level of communication. The love you have for them and the love they have for you is still there.
“I kept pushing mom to remember. And I think it may have scared me more than it did her. I still needed her to give me advice. But the mom who could do that was gone. I think I felt abandoned. That’s why I pushed so hard. Once I let go. And once I accepted her for who she is today things got so much better. We have fun when I visit now. And I have learned so much about her life I never knew. I enter her world when I visit. It’s interesting, exciting and fun. I never know what adventure she will take me on.” Donna- Adult Daughter
Step # 2 Reminiscing
Dementia and Communication may work better if you step into the past with someone. Put together a box of old pictures and memorabilia from the past. Take time to sit down with the one you love and just reminisce. This is not something you can do if you only have a few minutes! But if you can schedule an hour or more you will find this exercise to be so rewarding.
Reminiscing can be done daily or weekly. There’s no limit on how often you can do it. After all, someone with dementia is happy to revisit those memories over and over and over again. They can remember the times they had. Furthermore, really listen to what they say. You might learn a lot of things that you did know.
“When going through a box of old thing with mom she told me some wonderful stories about my grandfather. He died before I was born and I do not remember her ever talking about him. She told me about a train ride they took to Chicago. That was a big deal in the early 1920’s.” Kathy
Different Periods In Time
You may even want to set up different boxes for different time periods. For instance, there could be a box set up for when she was a little girl. And another box set up for when she was in high school or young woman. Maybe another box could be set up for when her children were young. This way you can take the temperature of where Mom is today. What does she gravitate towards? This will help you know how to speak to her and how to listen.
Step # 3 Aromatherapy Hour
“I used to love sitting together with my mother at her memory care home in the afternoon. As such, I would bring several bottles of aromatherapy and some nice soft creams. Then I would ask Mom to choose which one she liked. And we would sit there and smell all of the bottles. We might even smell them 2 or 3 times before she would finally choose one. I would add a few drops of the oil into the cream. Stir It Up. And then very gently begin to massage her hands. She would smile up at me and there was this deep connection. I knew in that moment she knew who I was. She may not be able to verbalize that I was her daughter but she knew. Of that I am sure”- Sharon
Touch is so important. Studies have shown that babies who do not have regular touch often have developmental problems later on. Many of our elderly no longer receive a comforting touch. Touch may become associated with various medical procedures, help with activities of daily living, like bathing, dressing, and toileting. The touch of connecting is missing.
Spend 30 minutes to an hour doing this ritual and see how your loved one responds.
Step # 4 Music
Music is used in just about every senior living center. The power of music has been documented. In fact, during WWII, music therapists were employed to help veterans recover from their battle wounds.
Today music therapy is commonly used with Alzheimer Patients.
At Sycamore Creek Ranch, we understand and use music frequently to draw out our patients. People who have not spoken in a long time will often start singing when the right music is used.
Step # 5- Go with the Flow
“My husband and I used to take my mother-in-law out of her care home a couple of times a week. We would usually just go somewhere for lunch. But on the way back she would start talking about how we had a wonderful trip to New Orleans or San Antonio. At first, my husband would argue with her and try to explain to her that we had only been to lunch. I kept telling him just go with the flow.
Finally, he took my advice one day. And after that, it was so much fun! When she would tell us on the way back how she really enjoyed her trip to New Orleans we would ask her what she liked most about it. And the stories that came out were amazing! I’m sure they were stories of times from her past when she had actually gone to New Orleans. She had a great time. And she was able to relive those stories as if it had just happened. Furthermore, we became so much more relaxed and even looked forward to hearing where we had gone today! “
Learning to enter their world is probably the most empowering thing you will do. Become curious. You will be amazed at what you may learn.
Number 5 – Take Time and Be Present
Someone with dementia may not be able to communicate with you the same way they used to. But they will pick up on your energy and your mood. If you are stressed and, in a hurry when you visit it will probably not be a good experience.
Most of us are running around like chickens with their head cut off. We’re busy, busy, busy. And chances are if you have an aging parent with dementia you’ve probably got a lot of other things on your plate. Maybe you work. Or perhaps you have children or a spouse who want your attention. However, if you just can take the time to be totally present with someone with dementia it’ll make all the difference in the world.
Quality Versus Quantity.
So, before you go into mom’s memory care home to visit, sit in the car for a moment. Shake off your day. Gather your thoughts and slow yourself down consciously. Tell yourself that you’re going to be present with her. Think about how you want the visit to be.
And you’ll be amazed at the difference that your visit will have. When you’re totally present with who they are and what’s going on. And when you’re not rushed, the person with dementia will sense that you’re there for them. Everyone wants to be seen and heard. When you can take the time to do that you will be amazed at the results. Being present in our hurried world is not easy. It takes discipline. But the benefits both of you will receive will be well worth the effort.