Family members are often unprepared for the day when a loved one begins showing signs of dementia. While some relatives may receive an Alzheimer's or dementia diagnosis, it's more common for relatives to notice small changes in a parent's or grandparent's behavior. If you suspect a loved one is suffering from a progressive brain disorder, it is important that you take steps to help your loved one adapt to the realities of their condition.
How Should I Approach a Loved One Who Is Showing Signs of Dementia?
Although it may be a difficult and potentially awkward conversation, it is best to speak with a loved one about their behavior as soon as possible. Talking through the issue while the disease is in its early stages allows for more options and control over the future. When speaking to a loved one about dementia, you should:
- Take as much time as they need. It can be extremely difficult to acknowledge the reality of a progressive disease. Patients may feel scared or embarrassed, causing them to lash out at those closest to them. Allow your loved one time to process what is happening, and let them know they will not go through it alone.
- Let them know you want to help. Your tone of voice and body language are as important as the words you use. Resist the urge to argue, even if your loved one is refusing to admit that something is wrong. Use facial expressions and physical touch to show your affection and concern.
- Present a clear plan for the future. As time goes on, it may be more and more difficult for them to think clearly, communicate with others, and take care of themselves. If the disease is in its early stages, you may press the importance of proper estate planning or establishing a living trust to protect them if they are incapacitated. They may even recognize the severity of their condition, and may be eager to set up voluntary guardianship to prevent outsiders from taking advantage of them.
How Can I Communicate with Someone as Their Dementia Progresses?
Dementia can cause mood swings, depression, and even personality changes, making interactions unsettling for both patients and caregivers. By improving your communication skills, your conversations will likely be less stressful and may improve the quality of your relationship with your loved one.
You can take a practical approach to coping with advanced dementia if you:
- Establish your relationship. When speaking to your relative, address them by name and identify yourself by name and relation. Maintain eye contact and try to limit distractions, such as TV, radios, and loud noises. If their attention wanders, use visual cues and touch to help keep them focused.
- Keep things simple. Always speak slowly and clearly, using simple language and a reassuring tone. If you ask questions, ask one question at a time and give time in between for answers. Try to frame questions so they have yes or no answers. If you need to give instructions, keep them to as few steps as possible and let your relative complete the task one step at a time.
- Be patient. If your loved one doesn't understand something, repeat it in the same wording without raising your voice. If they appear to be struggling, give reassurance through touch or saying "it's okay" to avoid frustration.
- Distract and redirect. If your loved one becomes upset or agitated, remember that the feelings they are having are real—even if their perception or the topic of conversation isn't. Connect with them emotionally before changing the subject, such as saying, "I'm sorry you're upset, I know it's frustrating. Let's figure it out over lunch."
- Remember the past. Dementia often affects short-term memory, so a patient may not remember what they had for breakfast, but can clearly recall events from 20 years ago. As a result, questions about recent events can unnecessarily frustrate patients. Instead, try to engage your loved one in conversations about their early life, which can be soothing and enjoyable to remember.
The attorneys at DeLoach, Hofstra & Cavonis, P.A. can help you protect an at-risk elder in Florida. Simply fill out the quick contact form on this page to set up a consultation, and be sure to download our free guide, Dementia Do's and Don’ts: Helpful Tips for Communicating with Your Loved One.