Tuesday, October 9, 2012

Eldercare 101: Tips on Talking With a Parent Who Has Dementia

Your parent has dementia.  And you may be scratching your head, wondering how to communicate.

Last week I attended a "Dementia Specialty Training," taught by Jeannine C. White, RN, MSN.  She offered guidelines that are as applicable for adult children as for full-time caregivers.  Try some of these ideas.

1.  Present one question or statement at a time.  If necessary, repeat the question or statement, using the same words and tone exactly.

2.  Keep questions simple.  Ask one-part questions such as, "Do you want tea?"  Do not ask open-ended questions like, "What do you want to drink?" or multiple-choice questions:  "Do you want tea or coffee, and do you want it now or with dessert?"  Eventually, even questions that can be answered by "yes" or "no" may be too hard.

3.  Speak slowly and clearly, in an adult manner.  Allow your parent time to think and respond.

4.  Talk about concrete (real) action and objects.  People who have a dementing illness cannot deal with non-concrete ideas, such as planning for a future birthday party or wedding or voting in an election.

5.  Use nouns or names, not pronouns.  For example, say, "Fred is coming today," rather than "He is coming today."

6.  Use positive statements.  For example, say, "Please stay in the house," rather than "Don't go outside."  People with impaired memories can better understand what you want them to do than what you do not want them to do.

7.  Use gestures and visual aids. Objects such as a toothbrush or comb can help identify activities.  Pictures of objects also can be used to convey ideas.

8.  Use touch, as appropriate.  Holding hands, hugging or combing your parent's hair shows warmth and affection, even when words don't do the job.

9.  Respond on a "feeling" level.  For example, if your parent says, "You stole my purse," respond by saying, "I know you are upset because you cannot find your purse.  I will help you look for it."  This kind of statement reassures your parent that you are there for them.

Can you think of other tips that help adult children speak with their aging parent who has dementia?

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