What Not to Say to Someone with Dementia:
Communicating with a loved one who has dementia can be difficult and heartbreaking. When a person is confused and disoriented the last thing you want to do is make matters worse, so it is important to know what not to say to someone with memory loss.
There are strategies that can make communicating easier for you as well as the person who is trying to live with the everyday frustrations of memory loss. The most important thing you can do to avoid conflict and exasperation is to understand what not to say to someone with Alzheimer’s or dementia.
So, what should you not say to someone with dementia?
It is important to choose your words carefully. Dementia is a condition that causes a person to gradually lose touch with reality. As this occurs the person feels afraid and embarrassed. They may become reluctant to engage in conversation for fear they won’t be able to make sense. They may have mood swings that range from sadness to fury with their inability to control their emotions.
Keep in mind that your loved one cannot control the behaviors that go along with the progression of dementia. It’s up to you and the people who interact with the person to understand the triggers that lead to arguments and resistance.
Some triggers for these behaviors are listed here:
- Don’t tell them they are wrong about something. Saying “No, I already told you today is Tuesday,” or “No, you didn’t brush your teeth this morning,” will only make them feel humiliated or angry.
- Do not argue with your loved one. Arguing with someone who has dementia is an exercise in futility. It’s better to simply change the subject.
- Don’t ask the person to remember something. They probably don’t remember what they had for breakfast, or if their grandkids visited yesterday. A better way to have a conversation is to say,” I really enjoyed those waffles we had for breakfast,” or “It was nice to see the kids yesterday, wasn’t it?”
- Don’t talk about things that might be upsetting. You know your loved one better than anyone. Avoid topics or incidents that will upset them.
- Don’t push things if the person is aggressive or combative. The bath can wait until later. Don’t insist on something the person does not want to do. Redirecting to something pleasant is a good alternative and will be calming for both of you.
- Don’t use negative commands such as no, don’t, can’t. Instead of “You can’t drive anymore.” Try “what a great idea, I would love to go out for a while. I’ll drive so you can enjoy the scenery and eat an ice cream cone!”
- Don’t raise your voice or lose your cool. This may be hard at times. It’s better to walk away for a few minutes. Remind yourself that the person has the diagnosis because of the inability to think clearly or control emotions. If you are calm in your approach and withdraw the trigger, your loved one will usually settle down and cooperate.
Download Our Dementia Guide
A person with memory loss, dementia or Alzheimer’s has strengths. Play upon those strengths. Many people with dementia, if given the opportunity, can sit down and play the piano if playing was a talent they had in the past.
Gardening can be an enjoyable activity if you share a love for it.
Maybe your loved one likes to listen to music from the past and sing along.
Some people with Alzheimer’s or dementia love to watch children laugh and play. Remind your loved one what a great parent and grandparent they are.
Look for strengths and things to make your loved one feel good.
Just remember that patience, a gentle hand, a warm smile, and understating the illness will go a long way when you’re providing care to a loved one with this debilitating condition.
Our well-trained and compassionate team at Griswold Home Care is ready to support and assist you when you need us.