Tips for Communicating with a Loved One with Dementia

Karen Stobbe and Mondy Carter, who provide training to dementia caregivers, share how they use techniques learned from improvisational theatre to engage with Karen's mother, who has Alzheimer's.

Karen Stobbe: Hi Guideposts! I'm Karen Stobbe.

Mondy Carter: I'm Mondy Carter.

KS: And the name of our company is In the Moment. In the Moment helps people give a better quality of life to people who are living with dementia and those who care for them.

Everyone learns better by doing, so we started using the exercises to illustrate how to better communicate, how to whys of actions and reactions of someone and how to actually, you know, find your laughter again and have joy.

MC: People don't realize that you can still have a lot of life in your life after having a diagnosis of Alzheimer's disease. 

KS: Some of those guidelines are, for instance, go with the flow. Step into their world or accept the reality that's given to you. Listen fully with mind, body and soul. Be in the moment. And last but not least, "Yes, and..." "Yes, and..." is, like, the big one.

MC: Whatever is given to you, you accept...and add to it. So that, if somebody comes up and says something to you, not only do you accept it but you reinforce that and build farther along with it.

KS: If someone says, "Do you know what? I used to go out with the Prime Minister of England..."

MC: Yes, and I saw the newspaper headline of you and the Prime Minister of England going to a movie together. 

KS: How about that? It was a good movie!

MC: Was it?

KS: Yes.

MC: Tell me more. 

KS: So, instead of saying, "There's no way that you went out with the Prime Minster of England," what does it matter if the person thinks they did? Go with it. Because if you don't, it turns into an argument. The person feels that you're denying them. You're calling them a liar.

MC: You are denying them. And although it comes from a good place -- you want them to understand the world that they live in; that used to be the way that people took care of people with Alzheimer's. It was called called reorientation therapy... 

KS: Reality orientation. 

MC: That reality isn't real for them. The only reality that they can accept is the one their mind presents to them. So it's important that you go along with that. You're trying to see life from their point of view, so it's more likely that you're going to discover the why behind "I want to go home" or "Where is my husband?" or all of these other questions that come along from someone with Alzheimer's.

KS: If you put yourself in their shoes and really try to feel what they're feeling, you can see the perspective, how hard it must be.

MC: They do have a kind of that comes along. If you are a person who's always being positive around them, then they feel that positive energy every time and it builds up as a habit. Oh, this person -- they may not remember who are, but they remember this feeling that comes along with the fact that you've always been positive around them.

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