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    8 Tips for Talking to a Parent with Dementia

    As the issue of memory loss continues to be a rising epidemic, being conscientious about the ways you are communicating with elderly parents diagnosed with dementia is all the more essential.  The Alzheimer’s Association reports that more than 11 million Americans provide unpaid care for people with Alzheimer’s or other dementias. Your parent is experiencing a different reality due to their memory loss. Since it can sometimes be challenging to communicate with your loved ones, here are some helpful tips to make it easier when talking to a parent with dementia.

    3 Types of Memory Affected by Dementia

    Functional Memory:

    They may have trouble with reasoning and comprehension as well as poor recall of conversations and details from books or movies. They may often misplace objects and lose track of time during activities. They may ask the same questions and exhibit repetitive behaviors. 

    Procedural Memory:

    They may display inconsistencies in everyday activities such as riding a bike, driving, eating, handwriting, swimming, climbing stairs, and chopping up fruits and vegetables.

    Emotional Memory:

    They may have difficulty connecting with other people’s feelings, possibly even experiencing hallucinations, delusions, and paranoia.

    How to Talk to a Parent with Dementia

    According to Paula Spencer Scott in her book Surviving Alzheimer’s: Practical Tips and Soul-Saving Wisdom for Caregivers, one of the cardinal rules of dementia caregiving is not to “reason with the person,” but rather “look for the reason they’re acting that way.”

    • Introductory Details

    Begin the conversation with contextual details and phrases such as your relationship with them. For example: “Hi, Mom. It’s Nancy, your daughter.”

    • Open Body Language

    Speak with a calm tone. Ensure that your body language is open and distinct so that they can understand your facial expressions and body positioning. 

    People with dementia can quickly pick up on your body cues and might mirror you. Try to not show frustration or irritation by spending time collecting your composure. 

    Remember, it’s dementia that is causing them to act this way. It is not their fault.

    • Practice Patience

    Be conscious of giving extra time for them to follow what you are saying. You may need to converse at a slower pace than usual. 

    They may have trouble following your conversation for an extended period, so remove any sense of pressure by giving them plenty of time to respond.

    • Simple Settings and Conversation

    Try to avoid meeting in environments with heavy traffic or other distractions. The best environment to meet in is a predictable and quiet space. This allows them to tap into their procedural memory and process the conversation more easily. 

    Remember to stick to one topic at a time and use simple, direct sentence structure in conversation.

    • Avoid Open-ended Questions

    Try to refrain from asking any questions that rely on short-term memory without a clear answer. Keep conversation topics simple and bring up familiar, fond associations.

    It is best to use soft language and avoid any accusatory language or tones. Be tactful and avoid making any blunt, harsh, or judgmental statements about their cognitive function abilities.  

    • Redirect Conversation

    If they are requesting to go somewhere, be supportive and express that you can help with that. If there is something else that must be done first, explain that you will help them with the activity afterwards. 

    Offer them two choices of things they like to do or use bridge phrases in conversation. These are great transitions to encourage them to change conversation topics. 

    Discuss what the topic may remind them of. This is a way to redirect their behavior or attention. 

    • Use White Lies Sparingly

    Under some circumstances, answering with a white lie is a buffer to protect your loved one from experiencing unnecessary grief countless times. For example, they may routinely forget that someone has died, and may ask for them. 

    In certain situations like this, providing a white lie instead of the brutal truth will prevent them from becoming distressed and having to process the grief continuously. 

    • Follow Up for More Assistance

    Speak with your parent’s doctor, especially if your parent is having disruptive sleep or is behaving violently or aggressively with unpredictable behavior patterns.

    Dementia Treatment Care Options

    You may experience hesitation and difficulty getting a parent with dementia to accept their memory loss and cognitive condition. 

    Taking them to a doctor to receive an evaluation can provide factual data and tests to move forward with next steps. Consider helping your parent schedule an appointment at the first signs of symptoms. Don’t delay!

    Procedural memory tasks can be increasingly complex for those who do not practice good sleep hygiene. Encourage your parent to prioritize restful sleep so that their procedural memory can function better when it comes to daily tasks.

    Dementia Clocks

    Dementia clocks are helpful for patients with dementia who often lose track of time quite quickly and have trouble differentiating between times of day. 

    These specialized clocks have large faces displaying the current date and time, making it easier to gauge the time from just a glance. It helps to enable proper daily structure, establish a routine, and build focus to begin their days with a better sense of clarity. 

    It may also lessen their anxiety, because it can serve as a visual reminder for appointments, mealtimes, and other activities. 

    Benefits of Memory Care Communities

    Searching for the right long-term nursing care home can be time-consuming and stressful. It may also be a reluctant topic for your parent to discuss with you, so bringing it up tactfully and in a reassuring way is vital. 

    The answers don’t always come easily when learning how to talk to you parent about dementia. Let your parent know that you are their reliable source of support, and encourage them to be proactive about their cognitive health.

    Memory care communities are more specialized communities than assisted living. They are centered to protect wandering patients and provide a therapeutic environment with 24-hour supervision. 

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