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Sinai Health | Magazine

How to talk to loved ones living with dementia

OVER 500,000 CANADIANS are currently living with dementia, a condition associated with progressively declining cognitive function. That number is expected to nearly double in the next 15 years. The symptoms of dementia — memory loss, judgment and reasoning difficulties, and changes in mood, behaviour, visual perception and ability to communicate — affect many daily activities. Paying bills, preparing meals and keeping track of belongings all become more challen.

As a result, people living with dementia often require the daily support of family caregivers. In fact, ONE IN FIVE CANADIANS HAS EXPERIENCE CARING FOR A LOVED ONE WITH DEMENTIA. Yet, it can be hard to know how to communicate with loved ones who have in many ways become strangers, and whose moods, behaviours and capabilities may be inconsistent.

Experts at the Cyril & Dorothy and Joel & Jill Reitman Centre for Alzheimer’s Support and Training at Mount Sinai Hospital recommend these simple tips for talking to loved ones living with dementia:

  • Regular short visits are best. They may need a break or time to rest
  • Introduce yourself or others by your name and connection
  • Use the person’s name and look them in the eye
  • Find a quiet place to talk and keep things calm; large groups and places with noise and distractions may confuse or overwhelm them
  • Sit or stand at the same level as your loved one
  • Avoid open-ended questions. Instead of “Where would you like to go?” ask, “Would you like to go to the park?”
  • Validate how they are feeling and reflect their feelings back to them so they feel heard
  • Let them express their feelings without offering solutions right away
  • Use verbal, visual and auditory cues and gentle touch to help your loved one understand
  • Remember that your loved one has a life rich with history, experience, relationships, skills, hopes and dreams