Conversations When a Loved One Has Memory Loss

Conversations When a Loved One Has Memory Loss

One of the most challenging aspects of caring for a loved one with dementia is the ability to communicate with them in a meaningful way. Communicating with someone with Alzheimer’s or a related disorder can be very frustrating, particularly if your loved one doesn’t always remember who you are. Additionally, they may think they live in a different time and place and speak from that perspective.

The best thing you can do as a caregiver is to enter into your loved one’s world, wherever that happens to be. For instance if your loved ones says, “They say that someday, they’ll able to land a man on the moon,” rather than reminding him that this has already taken place, you might reply, “Yes, they’re doing amazing things these days, aren’t they?” This may trigger other memories of amazing feats and allow you to have a conversation about “modern” miracles.

The one thing you want to avoid doing is correcting your loved one or trying to get them to live in the “real” world if you see this creates frustration and anxiety. Below are two examples of a possible conversation between a mother and daughter. The first example uses correction, the second uses validation—validating the person’s experience.


Mother: I’ve got to get going, it’s time to pick up Ruthie from school.
Ruth: Mom, I’m right here, you don’t have to pick me up.
Mother: No, Ruthie needs to be picked up every day at 3:00!
Ruth: No, Mom, I’m not in school anymore. I’m right here!
Mother: No, I’ve got to go! Where are my car keys?
Ruth: Mom, you don’t drive.
Mother: Of course I drive, I’ve been driving for over 20 years!
Ruth: No, Mom, let’s do a jigsaw puzzle and everything will be all right.
Mother: All right? It won’t be all right until Ruthie is picked up from school!


Mother: I’ve got to get going, it’s time to pick up Ruthie from school.
Ruth: Oh, is Ruthie your daughter?
Mother: Yes, she’s a bright little girl.
Ruth: Tell me about her.
Mother: Oh, well, she’s a straight-A student, very popular with all the other children, and sings in the youth choir at church.
Ruth: What do you two like to do together?
Mother: Oh, Ruthie and I love going to the movies. She wants to be an actress, you know.
Ruth: Well, I have a movie right here! Have you ever seen Gone with the Wind?
Mother: Oh my, yes! It’s one of our favorites!
Ruth: Well, why don’t you and I watch it now?
Mother: Okay!

Redirecting your loved one’s attention from one memory to another is a very effective way to keep them focused on what’s happening in the moment.

Here are some more tips to have a successful and meaningful conversation with your loved one:

Make eye contact and ensure your loved one is capable and willing to have a conversation.
Identify yourself. Make sure you have their full attention before you attempt to touch or embrace them.
Because long-term memories may remain intact, reminiscing about the past is a good way to have a conversation that is enjoyable for the both of you.
Match their emotions. If they are upset about something, telling them that everything is going to be okay won’t make the situation better. In fact, it may cause more distress. Instead, validate their feelings by telling them you understand and would feel the same way if such a thing were happening to you.
Use words of encouragement and support. Knowing they have someone in their corner will allow them to relax around you and be more open.
Families whose loved one is living with Alzheimer’s disease often note that old friends seem to withdraw. Often as not, this is because friends aren’t sure how to communicate with the person with memory loss. In the February 2015 issue of Regency News, find some ways to help friends connect.


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