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Talking with Someone Who Has Dementia

Dementia and Alzheimer’s impair access to memories, continued learning, and reasoning skills. This can make talking with someone who has dementia difficult. However, it is important to remember that dementia or memory loss does not change the person’s identity in Christ.

What is dementia?

Dementia is a general term for a decline in mental ability severe enough to interfere with daily life. Alzheimer’s disease (Alzheimer’s) is the most common cause of dementia. Alzheimer’s is a specific disease, while dementia is not. 

Tips for talking with someone who has dementia

  • Recognize that a person with dementia or Alzheimer’s is still the same person as they were before. They have all the same experiences and memories; it’s just that their access to those has been damaged.
  • Be patient and calm when talking with someone with dementia.
  • Tactile sensing can be very important, so consider how the use of touch might be used appropriately.
  • Speak as you would to other adults, not in baby talk (as with other disabling conditions); avoid infantilizing the individual.
  • Listen closely to what the person is trying to say.
  • Think about the feelings behind the words the person is trying to say.
  • If the person appears angry or upset, then ask if that is the case.
  • Treat the person with dignity and respect.
  • Maintain an “even keel.” Don’t debate, argue, or try to reason with the person if it is not necessary.
  • Repeat answers you have already given, if necessary. Don’t say, “I just told you that.”
  • Talk about what you remember or know happened and how he or she was a part of it. Don’t ask the person to remember things that happened in the past, nor remind them that they already knew something.

(Adapted from J. Frank Broyles, Coach Broyles’ Playbook for Alzheimer’s Caregivers)

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