By Annie Pai, Health & Wellness Director at Jackson Creek Senior Living
Knowing how to communicate with a loved one with Alzheimer’s or dementia takes practice and, above all, patience.
Being present for an aging family member can take an emotional toll. Before visiting a loved one with memory loss, consider researching some of the common behavior and personality changes associated with memory loss. Memory loss, dementia and Alzheimer’s affect people’s brains differently, and how individuals cope with changing medical needs can be significant factors in how they connect to their environment and visitors.
Here are six ways to create a more meaningful visit with a senior with memory loss:
1. Create a positive environment
Seniors with memory loss can sense emotions and tone, so it’s important to stay conscious of not just what you’re saying, but how you’re saying it. Body language and nonverbal cues are important for maintaining a relaxed environment and productive conversation. Preparing in advance and knowing how to cope with frustrating situations can take practice. Consider these simple tricks for sending the right message:
- Have a friendly expression and focus on being receptive
- Maintain eye contact to show you’re engaged
- Keep your voice and body relaxed and consistent
2. Plan your visits and coordinate with staff
Memory support neighborhoods use routines to create a stable environment for residents. It benefits everyone when you’re able to schedule your plans ahead of time and give memory support staff, and your loved one, an opportunity to prepare for your visit.
- Coordinate with the community and staff ahead of time to schedule the best time of day to visit your loved one.
- Limit the number of visitors to one to two people at a time. Large groups can be intimidating or overwhelming
3. Limit distractions in the room
It can be difficult to hold a conversation in a loud or unpredictable environment. Distractions like TVs, radios or children running around can be overwhelming for older adults with memory loss. Foster an environment that supports communication by turning off electronics, reducing the number of people in the room and finding quiet activities for children.
- Be okay with sitting in silence for long periods of time, as this can be relaxing for some.
- Consider bringing an activity with you, like a book or photo album to look at
4. Identify yourself and have a friendly approach
It wouldn’t be first instinct to introduce yourself to your dad and shake his hand, but the benefits of reinforcing information and non-assuming are significant for those in memory support. No matter how sure you are that your loved one knows who you are, make it a habit to introduce yourself and any other visitors at every visit.
- When you introduce yourself, don’t forget to give your relationship. Saying, “Hey, Uncle Pete, I’m Annie, your niece,” could help with emotional memories.
- Don’t be upset if a family member doesn’t immediately remember you — but do celebrate moments of clarity when they happen.
5. Be direct, concise and repetitive
Say exactly what you mean and use more simpler words. Adults with memory loss process information differently, so consider every way you can make yourself easier to understand.
- Repeat people’s names and their relationship to yourself and your family member when talking about a person. Avoid just using pronouns, since they can be easily mistaken.
- Give choices when asking questions, such as “would you like orange juice or iced tea?” When there are two clear options, adults with memory loss are less likely to feel overwhelmed by options
- Be careful about providing feedback and avoid criticizing or arguing. One of the most frustrating questions someone with memory loss can get is, “Do you remember?”
6. Depart at a natural break in the day
When it’s time to go home, find a time or activity that would normally fit into your senior’s routine. Ending your visit around a meal break or bath time can ease the transition back into a regular schedule in the residence and ensures your family member is being attended to when you leave.