Those with dementia can become isolated if friends and family withdraw from their lives. Some people feel discomfort in not knowing how to be with their loved one in his/her new (and constantly changing) circumstance. Maintaining a long-term friendship is one of the best ways to help your friend. Your friendship will change, but it need not end!
First, a few tips on communicating:
- You may need to speak more slowly, and use short, simple sentences.
- Avoid correcting them if they make errors or get confused. Don’t argue.
- Avoid “Do you remember … ?” questions. (They’ll become embarrassed when they don’t remember.) Try “Have you ever …?” and accept the answer they offer (even if you know it isn’t right).
- Ask questions to which you already know the answer to get a topic started.
For example, avoid “Where were you raised?”
Instead, try “You were raised in Vermont, right? I’m visiting there next month.”
You likely can still do some of the things your friend has always enjoyed. She can garden (with gentle direction and assistance), and perhaps assist in some food prep (e.g., measuring things, or stirring contents of a bowl). Consider outings to see community gardens, museums, or zoos. Stand-bys such as dinner out or a light movie might work.
A few other activities that are frequently effective:
- Use pictures to reminisce about things you’ve done together in the past, or people you both knew.
- Bring a library book (with pictures) about someone your friend admires (e.g., a former president or movie star) and review it together.
- Play YouTube videos of funny historic TV episodes. Almost everyone has seen some of the “I Love Lucy” famous scenes.
- Music, music, music! Listening to music and singing along with your friend can be one of the most successful ways of connecting with her. Many folks with dementia still remember song lyrics very well. Dance along, too, if possible!
- Consider board games that are simple but not juvenile. Dominoes could be successful, since many of those with early dementia can put together matching ends. (You may gently help, if needed.)
Dementia affects different people in different ways. Cultivate flexibility, and expect the unexpected.
Also, remember that you’re there as a peer and a friend. You’re there to be with your friend, not solve problems. Just know that your continued presence in his or her life is important!
About the Author:
Lorenzo Mejia and his wife, Mary Lynn Ryerson, are the owners of Acorn, a caregiver registry located in Chapel Hill.
They founded Acorn based on their experiences caring for his mom, who suffered with Alzheimer’s Disease. In 2013, he became a Qualified Dementia Care Specialist. In 2014, the Alzheimer’s Foundation named him the Dementia Care Professional of the Year in the United States.
Lorenzo is the founder of Dementia Friendly Orange County an effort to make local businesses more accommodating to people with dementia.
Lorenzo speaks often on dementia and the challenges associated with caring for loved ones. He has been interviewed by ABC News and National Public Radio. He is an advisor to Orange County’s OC-CARES Dementia Capable Community Project.