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How to Talk to Someone with Memory Loss

It can be frightening when an elderly loved one seems to have become more forgetful or confused than usual. You will likely have lots of questions, including what is causing the memory loss or what the future holds for your family.

Memory loss is one of the most common signs of Alzheimer’s disease or dementia, progressive cognitive conditions that can be slowed down but not cured. As your loved one starts their dementia journey, there are ways you can still have positive, loving conversations using these eight simple strategies.

Stay positive and upbeat

It can be upsetting when a loved one is experiencing cognitive decline. However, if you show signs of being upset, you also risk upsetting them. Memory loss may affect their understanding of words, but not their sense of your mood or expressions.

Be sure to keep conversations light, positive, and upbeat. Be optimistic and use a gentle tone full of love and warmth. Your uplifting approach will help keep the conversation relaxing and enjoyable for both of you.

Help them maintain focus

Limit background noise such as the television, radio, or other conversations that will distract your loved one from the conversation. Call them by name, maintain direct eye contact, and touch them gently on the shoulder, forearm, or hand to keep their focus.

Also, be sure not to lose your own focus. For example, don’t become upset if they can’t remember your name. Simply identify yourself and keep the conversation going.

Speak slowly using short sentences and simple words

This doesn’t mean “dumbing down” your language or speaking to them as you would a small child but instead using an approach that’s clear and easy to understand.

You may have to repeat what you said a few times or answer questions if they don’t understand what you’re saying. Be patient with them. If they still don’t understand you, gently move on to another topic and, if you like, return to this topic later.

Use proper names and nouns instead of pronouns

Using too many nouns where proper names and nouns can be used instead will help keep the person focused and minimize confusion during conversations.

For example, if you’re recalling a family vacation to Florida years ago, refrain from asking, “Remember that trip we took south?” Instead, try: “Mom, remember when you, Dad, and I went to Florida?”

Use the redirection technique if the person becomes frustrated

Redirection is a technique often used in elder care to refocus someone who has become frustrated. If your loved one is upset because they can’t remember something, especially if it’s getting late in the day or they are getting tired, you can use redirection to make things better.

Get them up for a little stretch or a walk, put on some of their favourite music, or switch the conversation to another topic. Or just give them a hug – this small act can go a long way to easing frustration in anyone.

Go with the flow

Each of us has a different rhythm that changes throughout the day. For example, your elderly relative might be more lucid and alert in the morning but have more trouble communicating later in the day. They might also have periods where their abilities will vary.

Just relax and go with the flow. Scale your questions and conversations to how they’re feeling at any given moment. You’ll quickly learn when to keep conversations lighter and questions that require a lot of thought to a minimum.

Always show patience

Your loved one may struggle to finish a sentence, think of someone’s name, or recall an event. It’s okay to “fill in the gaps” occasionally, but doing so too often may discourage them from trying to talk and relying on you to speak for them.

In most cases, it’s best to maintain eye contact while keeping an encouraging expression. Give them time to exercise their brain and find the words.

Keep smiling and be reassuring

A smile and reassuring tone can go a long way to helping your elderly loved one feel safe as they move further along in their dementia journey. Holding hands and speaking in a soothing, gentle voice will also help them feel loved and supported.

They may not be able to express it, but your relative feels your loving presence and is grateful that you’re there with them.

Staying connected with someone experiencing memory loss doesn’t have to be a daunting task. Try these simple adjustments to how you usually engage with your loved one to keep the communication going, reassuring them that you’re there to support them no matter what.

Quality in-home elder care services in Etobicoke, Mississauga, and Brampton

When you need help supporting a loved one with Alzheimer’s disease or dementia, CareHop is ready to help with professional, empathetic eldercare solutions.

We’ll ensure your older relative is happy, engaged, and well cared for with customized care services delivered by our full-qualified, trained caregivers. Your loved one will be kept engaged with fun activities, light exercise, and casual companionship that will help them have a great day, every day. We can help with homemaking and meal preparation, personal care, and other essential services that will bring joy and sunshine into their home every day while preserving their independence.

If you have any questions about our specialized home and elder care services, please reach out to us anytime for a free, no-obligation discussion to discover how we can help you.

About the Author

Michael Lu is the founder of CareHop. He started the business inspired by his Grandmother to look at ageing as a happy experience to bring sunshine into the homes of others.

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