Last month many caregivers attended a community outreach session entitled “Better Communication with Memory Impaired Loved Ones”. Guest speaker Geneviève Gaboury, from Société Alzheimer de Québec gave us many practical and helpful tips to help us connect with people dealing with memory issues. Here are some of her main points for those of you who were unable to attend and those who would like a refresher!
- Create a quiet space without distractions : Make eye contact and maintain it. Identify yourself. Turn off the TV or radio. Close the door to eliminate distraction. Try using a light touch on the person’s hand or shoulder to get their attention. Ensure the person is wearing his/her glasses and/or working hearing aid, as needed .
- Use short, easy-to-understand words : Try to use an unbeat, calm, positive voice. Convey love by your voice and don’t forget to smile.
- Avoid pronouns as this can be confusing: Use names and nouns as much as possible. It is easier for someone with memory loss to follow converasation if you say “Jane is at the supermarket” instead of “She went there”.
- Be patient. Sometimes your loved one will need time to find their words. Rather than filling in the blanks for them, keep eye contact and maintain an encouraging expression. Silence doesn’t have to be uncomfortable . Your loved one may just need some space to gather their thoughts before they can respond. Sometimes their response will be in their eyes and not their words.
- Distract and redirect: Sometimes a person living with memory issues will become distressed (especially if they are tired) when they can’t remember or express themselves clearly. It can be helpful to gently redirect the conversation or distract them. Invite them to go for a walk or into another room. Ask another, simpler question on a different topic. Lean over and give a hug. Show that you appreciate being in their presence, regardless of their ability to remember.
- Validation can be a powerful tool when someone with memory loss seems stuck or deeply perturbed. Validation means asking open questions about whatever it is that seems to be causing distress. For example, if the person with memory loss keeps asking for her mother over and over, a caregiver might say ”Tell me about your mom?” Gently allow the conversation to flow in a new direction that might allow the person with memory loss to work through an underlying issue from their past. Naomi Feil, a leader in the validation and communication through empathy explains more about this approach in this youtube clip: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ESqfW_kyZq8