Learning that a loved one has dementia can be heartbreaking. You may feel overwhelmed, hopeless or unsure of how you can be supportive and stay connected to a person you’ve been close with your entire life. But you are not alone – approximately 1 in 6 women and 1 in 10 men over age 55 are estimated to develop dementia in their lifetime, with Alzheimer’s disease accounting for almost three quarters of dementia in the elderly.
Adult children across the world have a number of ways to connect to their elderly parents. Because people with dementia often recall long-term memories but not short-term ones, adult children can bond even closer with their loved ones living with dementia while simultaneously learning new things about their past. Here are six ways to stay connected.
1. Communicate clearly. Before starting a conversation, eliminate any distractions. Yes, that means turning off the TV and being together in a quiet place. If they have been forgetful, remind them of your name and relation to them and speak slowly. When talking, try to use the names of specific people and places as opposed to their pronouns. Speak at a reasonable volume; it is best to not shout if your loved one asks, “What?” Instead, use the same wording and clearly repeat your question or statement.
2. Ask simple questions. When possible, refrain from asking open-ended questions or giving too many choices. Rather, ask closed-ended questions like, “Would you like the cheesecake or ice cream for dessert?” If you can, give some sort of visual when asking these questions so they can better understand.
3. Play games. From “Memory” to trivia, there are a number of fun, easy games for all ages that can keep the mind sharp. Try simple trivia or even The Ungame, Seniors Edition, a tabletop card game that helps people with dementia to think deeply and have natural conversations. You can also make up your own Q&A games. For example, instead of asking what your loved one had for breakfast 30 minutes ago, ask about their spouse or career from 30 years ago.
4. Tell funny stories. Most people with dementia usually still maintain their sense of humor, so take advantage of it. Talk about moments from when you were a kid that make them smile, or tell them a new story about something silly. There’s nothing better than seeing your loved one not only understand and remember something, but also to have a genuine laugh.
5. Be supportive. Keep in mind people with dementia may recall events that never happened as they struggle to remember something. This can be a frustrating process for both parties, so try to avoid telling your loved one they are wrong. Focus instead on comfort and reassurance.
6. Redirect attention when necessary. If your loved one becomes upset when they aren’t able to remember something, distract them and redirect their attention to something else. Try saying something along the lines of, “I know it’s tough to remember. I’m sorry you’re feeling sad. Why don’t we go for a walk?” and then change the subject to something pleasant that they like to talk about.
Coping with dementia is difficult for adult children and their elderly parents, but connecting to your loved one shouldn’t have to be a frustrating experience. With enough patience, support and some laughs, adult children often find a productive routine that works best for them. At The Preserve at Clearwater, we provide a number of resources to ensure the process of moving into an assisted living community is comfortable.
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