What do I say to someone with Dementia? Will they understand me? What if I say the wrong thing? How should I start a conversation with someone with dementia? What if I get uncomfortable or run out of things to say? Why am I afraid to go visit?
These are all good questions, but guess what? I want you to stop worrying about it. THE most important thing to remember is that you should just talk to them. There is a certain loneliness that comes with dementia. People treat you differently. They avoid you. They don’t know what to say so they say nothing at all.
What if you had dementia? Would you want to lose your friends, have family members stop coming by for a visit? I am going to guess you would say an emphatic NO! So please don’t avoid them on account of your own insecurity. Reach out, visit, play a game. They may not be their “old” selves, but they are in there.
It is easy for the person with dementia to withdrawal from social situations. They may be fearful themselves that they will forget a name or a face. Studies show social interaction is beneficial. The mental stimulation, conversation and human interaction can even stimulate the brain to form new pathways and activate neurons. It won’t slow down the progression of the disease, but the new pathways can train areas of the new brain to compensate for the areas that are declining. It’s like re-wiring the brain as one might rewire an electronic device or re-program a computer. As long as there are areas of the brain that are still functioning, these areas can be re-wired for new purposes. They still have emotions, interests and crave interaction like anyone else. The key is just spending time with them.
Speak with the caregiver to find out what still interests the person. Bring a puzzle, a familiar game or a photo album. Watch a football or baseball game. Do a craft. You don’t have to speak every minute. Silence is okay. Remember, depending on the stage the person is in, you might need to use fewer words or simpler words. Maybe you need to slow down and allow for comprehension of what you are saying. It’s okay! Read their cues and you’ll do just fine.
I encourage you to learn more about how social interaction, exercise and activities can benefit symptoms of dementia. An active lifestyle, social interaction, and staying connected with friends and family can be a huge factor in the care plan and make life more pleasant and inclusive for the one with dementia and they need your presence in their life. Your presence is like a lifeline and a welcome distraction from the reality of this disease.