It can be daunting knowing how to behave and what to say or do when you’re visiting someone in the later stages of dementia. Fear of doing the wrong thing can make us back off and clam up - but that is only likely to leave the person with dementia feeling isolated, and you even more worried and fearful.
Try to relax. Your presence alone can often be a source of comfort to the person you’re visiting so conversation isn’t always necessary. Silence may seem awkward to you, but many people living with dementia don’t actually notice it.
To make your visit easier try these tips to keep things comfortable for both yourself and the person you’re visiting….
Maintain eye contact
This is important to put you both at ease. Try to position yourself at the eye level of the person you are visiting , but don’t get too close. No-one likes an invasion of personal space, and this can be particularly overwhelming for someone with dementia.
Keep your sentences short and sweet
Try to slow down a little, speak up and don’t ramble on! This will make it a lot easier for the person you’re visiting to understand what you’re saying and join in if they can.
Use the person’s name
Remember to use the person’s name, and use it often! It prompts the person to connect, and then helps them stay focussed.
Stick to one idea at a time
Don’t jump around between different topics - it can be overwhelming. Stick to one topic at a time, and keep questions easy so that can be answered with a simple “yes” or “no” response. Be prepared to repeat yourself several times within a single conversation, and stay calm and patient.
Don’t interrupt or try to finish their sentences for them
Jumping in and trying to finish what the person is saying may seem like you’re helping out, but it can break their train of thought and cause confusion. Give the person as much time as they need to respond. Afterall, the last thing you want to do is inadvertently embarrass them or leave them feeling frustrated.
Remove background noise
Keeping your concentration can be hard for all of us if there are distractions going on in the background, but it’s particularly difficult for someone with dementia. When you’re wanting to chat, it can help them enormously if you turn off the TV or radio, or take them to a quieter place if there are lots of people around. This will help them concentrate on what you are saying and reduce the likelihood of them losing their train of thought and becoming confused.
Use prompts to jog their memory
Consider anything here that might connect the person to happy times. You could look at photos albums or reminiscence apps, listen to music, or try simple baking or gardening tasks together to name but a few.
Don’t push too hard or get upset if they don’t respond in the way you hoped. It’s not a personal slight - they simply can’t help it. Stay calm, try again another time, and take joy in the moments they do remember.
Don’t panic if there are silences
Remember that it’s perfectly OK if conversation trails off. Simply holding hands, and being there can bring enormous comfort to the person you are visiting. If talking isn’t working, listen to music or watch the TV together - you don’t have to be chatting non-stop to enjoy spending time together.
Northfield House is a specialist provider of dementia care in Stroud.
To find out more about our welcoming atmosphere you’re more than welcome to pop in anytime though it’s best to phone ahead on 01453 488060 to ensure that Carol, our Home Manager, is on site should you wish to meet her and ask any questions you may have.