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How to Have a Good Visit With Someone with Dementia

Families often ask us about how to better relate to their loved one who has Alzheimer's disease or dementia. With some insight into how your Mom or Dad experiences the world and a few modifications on your part, you can improve your communication and have an easier and more enjoyable time with your loved one. These basic tips were developed with help from an Alzheimer's expert, Beverly Moore, RN CS, of Alzheimer Coaching Services.

How to Have a Good Visit With Someone with Dementia

Those With Memory Loss Live In A Different Reality From Our Fast Paced, Noisy Lives.

Theirs is slow, quiet, and based in the remote past which is a predictable place in its familiarity of people and routines. They cannot sustain staying in the present; it is too difficult and confusing. Retreat into the past with your loved one and you will have a better than good visit!

Planning ahead and getting comfortable:

    • Plan a time limit that you are comfortable with – as few as 15 to 20 minutes can make for a good visit.
    • Slow down your pace and your mind before entering your loved one’s space.
    • If possible, turn off background noises, such as the TV and music, when having a conversation.

Approaching your loved one:

    • Identify yourself each time. If your Mom or Dad doesn’t know who you are, introduce yourself by your first name, “Hi Mom. Brad, your son, is here to spend some time with you.” It may take a full minute for your loved one to orient to you being there and to recognize who you are.
    • Always approach your loved one from the front before touching so he or she isn't startled.

How to talk and what to talk about:

    • Talk slowly and simply. Avoid complex concepts and repeat information as necessary to be clear.
    • Address one topic at a time. Don’t jump from subject to subject, especially in mid-sentence. Processing information is slowed in the brain of a person with Alzheimer’s. Sometimes it takes a full minute or longer for the brain to accept a message, make some sense of it, and formulate a response.
    • Avoid arguing with your Mom or Dad's perceptions of things and don’t correct them when they are wrong. Sometimes saying nothing works best. You always lose an argument with a confused person!
    • Avoid questioning and quizzing. Avoid questions asking what, who, when, and especially why. Questions that can be answered “yes” and “no” are best.
    • Avoid long explanations, such as why your loved one must do something.
    • When asking a person with dementia to make a decision, offer only two choices, either of which is acceptable. More than that is too much for the brain to deal with now. For example, “Do you want to walk with me now, or talk together first?”

Staying in the moment:

    • Plan a task to be accomplished while you’re visiting, such as a short walk with easy, slow talk (you’ll probably carry most of the conversation), reading a story, listening to music together, or giving your Mom a manicure.
    • Communicate positive feelings through quiet hand holding, a light back rub, or a hand resting on the back or forearm.
    • Enjoy being in your Mom or Dad's world. Do not reality-orient or correct his or her memories or perceptions of things.
    • Know that your presence alone brings comfort to your Mom or Dad

Relating to individuals with memory loss can often be challenging, especially as the symptoms of their dementia progresses. It’s helpful to keep in mind that their behavior is their way of staying in touch with what is going on to feel in control of their lives.

If you are bringing children, here are some tips from our AgeRightBlog to read before visiting a loved one with dementia.

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