Visiting a loved one who has dementia
By Alzheimers Auckland
Our relationships, whether they are with friends, partners, relatives, or colleagues, form a central part of our identity.
However, relationships can change when someone has dementia and it is possible for them to become isolated.
If you have dementia, you may not be able to recall your friends and family, or many of the social events that were important to creating cherished memories.
You can become more dependent on others but display different personality traits than you have in the past.
It’s important to continue to visit your loved one to help with any loneliness or isolation they may feel so they can continue to lead a quality life.
Socialising can sometimes slow down the progression of dementia.1
We know it can be tough visiting a loved one with dementia, especially during the later stages, as their ability to recall things declines.
Here are some tips to help make the most out of the time you spend together.
Focus on the present
A positive relationship with someone who has dementia can be maintained by changing the way you interact with them.
By focusing on the present, rather than the past or future, you can spend time together in a positive way.
Try to take part in activities you can do alongside one another, like art or listening to music.
Rather than telling someone with dementia what they can’t do, focus on what they can do.
By doing a task together, or giving them a task they can do, it will take their mind off the things they can’t do while also giving them a sense of responsibility.
People with dementia have feelings and emotions even if they haven’t understood what you have said.
Be careful not to put them under too much pressure to answer, or hurt their self-esteem or dignity.
Tone is an important way of communicating and can be understood, even if the words you’re saying aren’t.
Don’t let a condescending tone slip into your conversation as this can be hurtful.
Keep it simple
When talking to someone who has dementia, it’s helpful to talk in a calm, gentle, matter-of-fact way.
Sentences should be kept short and simple, and focus on one topic at a time.
Sometimes it can take a while for what you have said to be understood so be patient when you are waiting for a response.
It can also be helpful to gently remind them who you are talking about and how they are related to them.
For example, say ‘your daughter Mary’ rather than simply stating a name.
Avoid arguing or asking them questions they need a good memory to recall – try to focus conversations on the present.2
Body language is also a key way people communicate so don’t forget to use it when you are talking to someone who has dementia.
Pointing or demonstrating what you are trying to get across can be a big help, and a warm smile, pat on the arm, or holding hands can communicate you care.
Spending time together in the right environment can make all the difference when you’re visiting a loved one with dementia.
Try talking in a comfortable, quiet place, and avoid any other noises which could be coming from a TV or radio.
If you position yourself in their line of vision and stay still while you are talking, you will help make the conversation easier to follow.
Try stick to regular routines as well which will help minimise any confusion.
For more information
If you or your loved one would like to learn more about dementia, there is plenty of support available.
In the Auckland region alone, more than 15,000 people are living with dementia.
Alzheimers Auckland is one not-for-profit organisation dedicated to providing dementia support services and inspiring those living with dementia to make the most of life.
They believe with the right support programmes, improved environments, and connection to community, people affected by dementia can continue to make the most of each moment.
Many organisations, including Alzheimers New Zealand, can help provide support, education, information and related services to those who are living with dementia.
These services may include education to assist with understanding and living with a dementia diagnosis, support for family, friends and whānau coping with the demands of caring, and support groups and day programmes for people affected by dementia.
They can also advise you on the services available in your local community.
Visit www.alzheimers.org.nz for more information on services available near you.
Editor's note: Views expressed by contributors are not necessarily those of the Office for Seniors