Dementia can feel like being in a foreign land with people barking orders in a different language. It is frightening and confusing. How comforting it is when we feel frightened or confused to have a best friend come alongside us. Caregivers get to be that best friend. There is comfort in being known, and making sure your care receiver feels known and understood will make everyone’s life easier. When we call our care receiver by name, remember their preferences, engage them in their favorite hobbies, TV shows, or other activities, we help them feel known and valued. Preserve their dignity and give them the respect you would offer your best friend. Laugh with them and keep a sense of humor.
Often people who have dementia or Alzheimer’s will remember their past. My father did not have dementia, but my siblings and I often wish we had recorded his story. Sit with your care receiver and write their story with them. Ask them questions to clarify their thoughts. Include little details like how they like their coffee or what sounds of summer they love. Could you talk about your memories with them? Maybe there was a special birthday your mom planned or a surprise day trip you still remember? While they are sharing their memories, including yours about the same event, Include pictures if possible.
Sometimes an event or happening may cause your loved one to go back in time. Once a man who had been in WWII helped prepare a German meal with a volunteer at a nursing home, and for two weeks afterward, in his mind, he was on a boat coming back from the war. There was no point in confusing him further by correcting him. We played along as army nurses returning with him. We learned a lot about him.
If they set the table and become confused about where the fork goes, guide their hand instead of verbally correcting them. Remember that you may be talking in what sounds like a foreign language to someone with dementia.
Fill their days with activities they love. I heard one woman helped her mom make dog biscuits for the local shelter. This activity gave her mom a sense of purpose as they delivered them. Going to the dog shelter was a social outing that also kept her mom from feeling so isolated.
Saying the right things at the right time is a knack, but it will develop in you as you go along. First, you may need to meet your care receiver in their reality. Take time and gently discover what that reality might be at this moment. Take some time to talk and understand. They may be living in a time when the president was Obama or Bush, or even Nixon. Correcting them will only agitate them. Talk with them for a while about their reality. Maybe they want to go home, but they are already home. Ask them questions about their home. Does it have a garden? What sort of porch or deck does it have? Asking questions is a creative way to get around “sticking points.”