How to Communicate With a Person With Dementia

Alzheimer’s and Dementia are devastating diseases, and the afflicted are very difficult to deal with. While patients with Alzheimer’s stop recognizing people with time, the dementia patients recognize faces but often confuse them with the other people. Dementia patient’s short-term memory is practically gone. They often don’t remember what happened to them 3-5 minutes ago, but they can remember events from 20 years ago. They often have paranoid anxiety.

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    Deal with repetitive questions every few minutes. Suggestion: Switch their attention and start talking on a totally different subject. Example: “Do you remember how we went to the choir concert? Did you like the concert?”
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    Cope with paranoid anxiety. Have him/her seen by a psychiatrist to possibly find a good anti-anxiety medication. In the meantime, do your best to calm him/her down, and assure him/her that you will handle the problem as soon as you possibly can.

    • Common example of this obsessive paranoia: “Come over immediately, I’ve been robbed!” Do not argue, they will not believe you, and the argument will make their agitation worse. Chances are an hour later the “robbery” will be forgotten.
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    Be ready for frequent phone calls (at times, at night and every 10 minutes) when your loved one is placed in a nursing home. S/he may call with the same subject every time, or a different one. Keep in mind it’s due to her obsessive paranoid mind. It can be draining. Suggestions:

    • Don’t pick up the phone every time s/he calls. Answer occasionally (have caller ID).
    • Never argue. If s/he tells you the same story over and over, use the same technique (step 2) and totally change the subject.
    • If s/he calls to tell you about a “problem” listen carefully and assure her that you will take care of it tomorrow. On her question “Why not right now?” give her an excuse. Obviously it’s a whole different story when she has a REAL problem and needs help. In this case call and talk to the nurse.

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