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How to Talk to a Parent with Dementia

You’ve spent your whole life communicating with your parents – telling them stories about your day, having them do the same. You never planned on one day experiencing and learning how to do that all over again. 

When a parent has dementia, loss of memory is not the only impairment. Dementia affects the entire brain, so in addition to memory recall, choosing words and forming sentences becomes a difficult process for them, as well as comprehending communication from others. 

Does My Parent Have Dementia?

According to Facty Health3 million people are diagnosed with dementia each year. It’s a heartbreaking figure, but the development of proven treatments and therapies can slow the disease progression and improve an individual’s quality of life.

Determining the signs of dementia is critical because the sooner it is detected, the sooner therapies can begin, and the disease is delayed for as long as possible. 

Early signs of dementia consist of, but are not limited to: 

  • Experiencing short-term memory loss and confusion
  • Having a difficult time speaking, understanding or writing
  • Asking the same question repeatedly in a short period of time
  • Having difficulty performing everyday tasks
  • Becoming depressed or withdrawn

These are just a few signs that your loved one may be suffering from dementia. If you’d like to know more about dementia or memory care, 7 Signs It’s Time For Memory Care For Your Loved One could be a good resource.

Health care professionals not only have a variety of ways they screen for dementia, but they can also determine what stage of dementia an individual is in. Knowing this information and the stages of dementia, in general, can be extremely helpful in figuring out the next steps. 

Regardless of what stage of dementia a parent might be in, breaking down the barriers to successful communication is paramount. 

There’s No Harm in Playing Along  

You might think that playing along with a loved one’s misplaced memory is counterproductive to improving their dementia, but it’s not. Whatever memory they might be experiencing, even if it’s 50 years in the past, was still a reality at one point. 

That memory might even bring them a sense of comfort, especially if they go through bouts where they get frustrated because they’re frightened by the path they find themselves on. 

Patience, Patience, Patience!

Dealing with dementia in a parent can be challenging because communication becomes a process instead of a reflex. This journey is a new path for all of you, and getting a road map together is going to take time and above all, patience

When your parent is trying to speak, even though they may be struggling, try not to interrupt them. Show them that you’re truly listening and doing your best to understand even if you can’t make out a single word. 

When you demonstrate patience while they’re attempting to communicate, you’re also simultaneously encouraging them to gather their thoughts and get out words that are difficult for them to compose in the first place. That should never stop. 

Be in the Moment

When a parent has dementia, just being in the room may not be enough. Therefore, hold their hand, or wrap your arms around them. This ensures that they know you’re there and that you hear them and that you empathize with them and just plain love them. Actions speak louder than words, and boy are they powerful. 

Don’t Stop Answering Their Questions

When a parent has dementia, odds are they will continue asking the same questions over and over, and when they do that, keep answering them. Answering the same questions can become tiresome, but there may be instances where their constant asking is a cry for help of sorts. 

For example, if they keep asking where the bathroom is and they’ve been shown five times in a single hour, that could be their way of saying they need to use the bathroom. 

Talk in a Distraction-Free Zone

Communication is difficult enough for a parent with dementia, so make it a mission to eliminate all distractions when you want to have a chat. Turn off all computers, cell phones, tablets and televisions so that you maintain their attention and focus. Also, use their name repeatedly during the conversation as that will also keep their attention. 

Do Not Quiz Your Loved One

We probably don’t even realize we do it to our friends and spouses, but we’ve all said the phrase, “Don’t you remember?” or “Remember when you said that?”

Try to refrain from saying things like this around a loved one with dementia because they very possibly might not remember, causing them to be stirred up with feelings of anxiety and frustration. 

If you want to bring them into reality, instead of saying, “Do you remember?” show them a physical picture and in a conversation, say, “Remember that – oh, that was funny!” This way, they don’t feel singled out and pressured into remembering something. 

How Holly Hill Can Help

If you’ve determined that your parent or loved one is suffering from dementia or showing signs of dementia, the caring staff at Holly Hill can assist you in answering questions, providing information or even coming to a decision on memory care. 

At Holly Hill, we get to know your loved one first, their unique history and their preferences to ensure they enjoy the greatest quality of life. If you’d like to learn more about us or what we can do for you, schedule a complimentary consultation today. We’re looking forward to meeting you.