Communicating with the Person with Dementia


Do I close the door? 

I hear this every night as mom prepares for bed. She’s anxious to do the right thing, and she simply cannot remember what it is, nor can she figure it out.

My frustration with the repeated questions drove me to a course on communicating with persons with dementia. It was a very short course (being free of charge), and here are a couple of key lessons.

First of all.. We, the caregiver, is attending the course. Therefore, the course is on what we say to the person with dementia. It isn’t about getting our loved ones to say what we wish to hear, or to get them to understand what we say. After all, they are not attending the course, are they? Even if we tried to teach them, we cannot expect them to understand or remember. Therefore, we must change the way we communicate.

Secondly, repeated questions are sometimes asked because our initial answers did not address their real issue. It is important to understand why the person with dementia is asking that particular question repeatedly, because if we did not address it, sometimes all the person is able to do is repeat the question.

For example;

What time are we going out?
– 12 o’clock.
What time are we going out?
– 12 o’clock.
What time are we going out?
– 12 o’clock.
What time are we going out?
– I TOLD YOU 12 O’CLOCK, STOP ASKING ALREADY!

Repeating the same answer to the same question makes us no better than the person with dementia! Perhaps if we answered each repeated question in a different way, we might learn what is behind the question. Think about what the person with dementia might be worried about, based on your knowledge of them. Their personality is really still there. For my mom, I think she does not want to be late, or might be worried about having to get ready, so my answer might be:

  • 12 o’clock, it’s still some time yet. I will tell you when to get ready.
  • In half an hour, you can start getting changed.
  • We are not going out today. It’s Saturday, not Sunday.

I find a confident and reassuring tone of voice helps too. But really, what helps me is that mom still has some short-term memory and is not so typical of those with pure Alzheimer’s disease.

Do you have any favourite way of addressing repeated questions? Please share here, or in your blog, and link back in a comment. Thanks!

 

 

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21 thoughts on “Communicating with the Person with Dementia”

  1. ((big smile)) 1. Good for you for taking the course in communication. 2. Good for you for taking the extra time to think about what you learned. 3. Good for you for applying it. Yes; I am told that I will repeat the same question numerous times and I am certain that it is because I did not hear the answer in such a way that it addressed whatever my concerns were. Good analysis. (When that happens my husband usually writes the answer on an index card and places it wherever I am working :-).)

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  2. I wish we had a course here. But since we don’t we can learn through you. I have been blessed with finding alternative ways of communicating with my dad. It seems that sometimes communication is much easier.
    However, sadly for me, my dad has moved into the harder parts of dementia like the fearfulness and thinking that people are taking from him and trying to kill him. I will stay in tune to see what more you learn. Thanks for being brave and sharing.

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    1. Thank you, I will try to share as much as I can. It is only right as I’ve learned so much from other bloggers too!
      Hope your dad improves soon. I dread the time when mom turns the corner.

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  3. I had never thought of that…. but that makes total sense. When my Gramps starts asking the same question, the more information I give him they less agitated he becomes…

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  4. My mom is at a very advanced stage, so many of her questions “to me” are just her talking to herself out loud to reassure herself. But when she is asking me a question, I try and touch her when I answer – especially if she is anxious about something like an appointment or a guest in the home. I also don’t tell her about upcoming appointments. She will worry herself sick – even though she has no idea what she is worrying about. Something nags at the back of her brain and throws her into a panic. Very excited to find you – through Nancy at Alzheimer’s Wife.

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  5. I find kindness and patience is key. I am dealing with different stages of dementia in my life with my neighbor Miss D who is active with no short-term memory and my Mother-in-Law who has more advanced Alzheimer’s and requires more touch for reassurance now that she is unable to ask the questions. Good topic to bring up.

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  6. How wonderful to have classes to learn about communicating with people with Alzheimer’s. Having the disease myself I find the semantics of what someone says to me can be confusing, but I am not always able to explain why I cannot understand the question/statement. Double negatives, assumed inferences or humour, throw me completely. Simple and detailed explanations are great.

    So great to read your educating blog, please keep writing as much as you learn for others. 🙂

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  7. Glad you enjoyed my blog post. We hope to lighten our reader’s load by laughing for a few minutes. Perhaps you’ll become a regular.

    My mother also had Alzheimer’s and I struggled with my own impatience. The same questions over and over…I found, interestingly enough, that my almost adult children had a great deal of patience with her. Perhaps that one-generation remove helped. I believe it’s particularly hard to accept what is happening to your own parent since the bond is so close, but a little distance (even though the grandchildren were still close) gave greater perspective. They could ‘jolly her along’ in ways I could not. And sometimes, as you point out, communication through touch (and music) is more effective.

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  8. As far as repeated questions, I keep answering them as if she is asking me for the first time. Saying “I already told you this” only adds to her anxiety and feeling of failure. She sometimes says, “I’m so stupid” when she can’t think of a word, and I always tell her that she’s not, and that people lose their memory as they age, including me. I agree with you about maintaining a soothing tone in your voice, and I find it helpful to keep a happy or at least neutral expression on your face. One time I was frowning and didn’t know it (wasn’t angry) and mom said, “What’s wrong? Are you upset?” Visual cues and body language are of supreme importance. Thanks for letting me share!

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