As families in the northern Chicago suburbs such as Highland Park, Deerfield and Wilmette know, one of the first signs of dementia is memory loss. As this progressive disease effects its victim’s memory, this creates several communication barriers. Patients with dementia can often forget recent conversations and may repeat themselves. This can cause stress not only to the patient, but also their caregivers. Remembering to stay positive when interacting with dementia patients is vital.
Agitation and aggression are contagious. When you are interacting with someone who is agitated or upset, it is only natural to feel upset yourself. Although patients with dementia may have trouble communicating their thoughts and feelings, they can still sense and feel emotions. If they sense you getting upset and agitated, that could cause them to feel upset as well. This is called “mirroring” – they reflect the emotions and attitudes that you demonstrate. So the key is to remain calm. If needed, step away from the situation for a few minutes and take a deep breath.
When your patient with dementia does have difficulty expressing their thoughts and feelings, rushing them and talking over them will not help. Be patient and give them time to slow down and really think about what they want to say. This will make them feel like you are really listening to what they have to say.
RESPECT AND DIGNITY
Always remember that your patient is a person, an adult struggling with a disease, so they need to be treated respectfully and with dignity. They are already struggling with the loss of their memory, do not take away their dignity as well. Although you may see some behaviors that remind you of a child, do not speak to them like children. Instead of saying “You wet your pants again!”, try “Your pants look soiled, how about I help you get cleaned up.”
DON’T CORRECT, VALIDATE
As dementia progresses, this can impact the patient’s ability to reason or make good judgement. Your patient may want to do things that they are not capable of doing or that may be unsafe for them. Instead of correcting them or telling them no, try to figure out and understand the underlying need or emotion behind their request. If they are trying to go out and take a walk in the rain, ask where they want to go or provide them with another activity to do. They may no longer understand that walking in the rain is unsafe for them, but perhaps there is a destination they want to go to that you can take them in a car or they may just want to do something active, so engage them in another activity that they can do indoors.