Chatting to a friend before their dementia diagnosis was easy, yet as their symptoms increase, perhaps you are finding yourself feeling less comfortable. You may have found yourself struggling to find things to talk about or hesitant to start a conversation as you want to avoid saying something that might cause upset. This is all very normal and may be overcome.
Good conversations with those living with dementia are possible, though you may have to change your approach. Here are some tips to help. Firstly, choose an appropriate time to talk when there are least distractions and noise. Remember if you feel afraid or worried about the conversation your friend might pick up on your body language. Relax and use open body language to help yourself, and them, to feel comfortable in your presence. Someone living with dementia may have feelings of confusion if given too many choices when asked an open question, for example, “what would you like to drink?”. Instead, try using a ‘this or that’ scenario, “would you like tea or juice?”.
Don’t be tempted to hurry the conversation if it’s going for longer than you expect by finishing off their sentences or telling them they are repeating themselves. Be patient, breath, smile, and just listen. It’s important to always keep your emotions in check, despite the difficulty you may be facing coming to terms with their condition, especially as their symptoms progress. You may have to face a time when your friend no longer recognises you, accuses you of something awful or says something quite hurtful. Remind yourself not to get cross or upset with them, it is the disease talking, not your loved one.
Those living with dementia are more comfortable with routine, so avoid arriving out of the blue, and simply stick to a scheduled visit or phone call. And, despite the temptation, don’t feel the need to fill every silence, simply enjoy being in their company.
Above all, don’t avoid or be afraid of visiting your friend. They are still the person you know and love inside. Having you nearby will be a great comfort to them.
Find more resources at Dementia Australia