Dementia: Compassionate Communication

As a dementia educator, I am often asked why people living with dementia (PLWD) ask the same question over and over again. My reply is, “Because their brain is failing.”

Every day, PLWDs are going through chemical and physical brain changes. Due to brain failure causing multiple problems with short-term memory, a PLWD can get themselves caught in a loop of asking the same questions.

Here are some suggestions for the next time you recognize the start of another loop of questions.

Listen to the important details as they speak. As dementia progresses, language will become increasingly vague. Therefore, objects or activities will be difficult for a PLWD to accurately describe. Instead of asking for the artificial sweetener Splenda, the PLWD might describe it as “the yellow stuff to put inside.” Take note of their descriptions and work like a detective to decipher the message using context clues in the environment.

Validate their emotions. Oftentimes, PLWDs create fictional stories that make complete sense to them. As a care partner, we choose to overlook their confabulated stories and attempt to reorient them back to the “truth” in our reality. The key here is to remain patient and just listen to their story. The PLWD is expressing his or her anxiety, which translates into made-up stories. You don’t have to agree with them, but offering validation, such as “wow, that must be hard,” can help the PLWD feel that they are respected and heard.

Redirect their attention toward an engaging task. Identify a highly preferred item or activity that you can provide in that moment. After validating the PLWD’s emotions, you can redirect the conversation toward the previously identified preferred item or activity. The reason we want to redirect their attention is so that their focus and attention will shift onto something productive or engaging. If we only validate their emotions without redirecting, then the PLWD is more likely to start the same behaviors again.

Check in on them as needed. Let’s admit it; we all have good and bad days. One day a task might be easy for the PLWD and the next day it could be the most frustrating thing ever created! Checking in on your person every five minutes or so is a good way to ensure that they are still engaged in the task. If the task is too difficult, then consider switching to an easier task before their agitation escalates to an unmanageable state.

Caregiver Education & Consultation
Mapuana Taamu, Certified PAC Trainer
808-469-5330 |
Learn more about dementia at our upcoming 2020 workshops.
Contact Hawaii Memory Friends LLC for details.


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