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5 Rules for Communicating with a Memory Impaired Loved One

Have you ever felt the frustration when your mom or dad forgets meeting a person or a recent event? How often have you said, “You know her, Mom. You met her last week at lunch.” Or “You remember, we went there last week.”

Phrases like “You remember” and “You know” no longer have relevance to those with Alzheimer’s or other forms of dementia. So they have to go. But learning not to use them is one of the biggest challenges of communicating with a memory impaired loved one.

We understand that challenge at our Anthem Memory Care communities, because we work with families of individuals with memory loss every day. Based on our experiences, as well as recommendations from the Alzheimer’s Association, here are our top 5 “rules of engagement” for communicating with memory impaired loved ones:

  1. Clear your conversation path of unnecessary distractions. Noisy backgrounds and interruptions can distract both of you. When possible, choose a quiet environment for your conversations.
  2. Listen. A difficult thing for all of us, but nowhere is it more needed than with individuals with memory impairment. Resist the temptation to jump in with a comment, even if it’s a word of encouragement. Give them time and space to get their entire thought across.
  3. Speak clearly and slowly without “talking down” to them. If you position yourself near your loved one and speak clearly and slowly, they will have more time to process what you are saying. But talking slowly doesn’t mean using “baby talk”. Keep the conversation on an adult level.
  4. Use memory cues. Looking at photos or reading a letter from an old friend can help jog memories. Remember, though, not to become agitated if they don’t remember a photo. This is not a memory test. Move on calmly to something else. Looking at old photos together can be therapeutic for you as well. Remembering your loved as he or she was in better times, is soothing and reassuring that the person in front of you has a vibrant, loving connection to you.
  5. Do not correct or contradict. Stop quizzing them! This is perhaps the most important of all communications rules. You don’t have to agree with everything they say, but by refraining from correcting them, you keep the conversation in a steadier stream. Sometimes he or she will remember on their own and correct themselves. You’ll miss that moment if you attempt to do it for them.

Above all don’t try to go it alone. Learning something new is never easy, especially in an emotionally-charged situation. Make sure that you are getting the support of professionals and other caregivers who have been there and can help you get through those difficult times in a caring and loving way.