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How to Talk to a Parent with Dementia

How to talk to a parent with dementia on phone or in person

Communicating with a parent living with dementia can be challenging at times. People living with dementia tend to suffer a progressive brain disorder that makes it hard for them to communicate with others, remember things, or think clearly. In many cases, most parents are usually vulnerable to dementia. When they are growing old, some people start to experience memory loss and confusion, along with other dementia symptoms. Therefore, how to talk to a parent with dementia effectively becomes a challenge. By understanding the condition better and learning strategies to care for your loved one, you can communicate with them well in person and by phone.

Learning How to Talk to a Parent with Dementia

Nobody was born knowing how to communicate with people with dementia, but anyone can learn. There are various skills that can help improve your communication skills, as well as boost your ability to handle patients suffering from dementia. Check them out below.

Get the Individual’s Attention

Eliminate as many distractions and noise as possible. For example, turn off the radio or move to a quieter place. Before you start talking to them, ensure you say their name. Then introduce and identify yourself by your name and state your relationship with them. By doing these steps, you’ll be able to grab their attention. Use nonverbal clues while talking to them and maintain eye contact to keep them focused on the conversation too.

Jane Byrne from FirstCare points out that one of the biggest issues in healthcare is dementia. She says, “Rising numbers of cases, couples with demographic changes such as a rapidly ageing population, are making dementia one of the major health problems of our times.”

Ask Simple Questions

When it comes to how to talk to a parent with dementia well, the next tip is to make sure that any questions you ask them are answerable ones. Avoid asking open-ended questions or a question with too many choices too.

Those questions with yes or no answers work out great. For example, “Are you happy with the care you’re receiving?” While there is no cure for dementia, it’s important that they feel comfortable in their living situation.

Also, use visual prompts and clues to clarify your question. Feel free to guide them on how to respond but don’t answer in their place or talk over them as those actions are disrespectful.

Make Your Message Clear

Use simple and clear words when practicing how to talk to a parent with dementia. Speak slowly, calmly, and in a reassuring tone. Also avoid raising your voice. If the parent does not understand the first time, again repeat the same message in the same steady tone.

If your parent is still not able to understand what you’re saying, try to rephrase your question rather than losing your patience. Be specific in your wording and use the names of people or places, rather than pronouns.

Keep a Sense of Humor

Furthermore, your conversations don’t have to be sad moments. Try to use humor as much as possible. Humor makes communication interesting and more engaging. People with dementia may be a little more difficult to reach sometimes but your persistence will be much appreciated, and rewarded.

Be Patient

Sometimes, a parent might take longer to respond to your question than they did before. That doesn’t mean you hurry them on. If they are stumbling for words, instead you can try to speak out on their behalf. Don’t allow yourself to be frustrated. Instead, relax and smile as you await them to finish what they are saying. They deserve that patience and love.

How to Talk to a Parent with Dementia

If your parent has dementia, the least you can do is to make them feel you understand them. Don’t get mad if they don’t respond to your conversation effectively. Instead, learn to talk with and understand them for clear communication.

In addition to conversations, what are some other challenges of having a parent living with dementia?

25 thoughts on “How to Talk to a Parent with Dementia”

  1. Alas, we’re experiencing this with my mother in law. I’m so grateful we have caretakers with hearts of gold who are patient with her and inspire the rest of the family to be even more patient, caring and compassionate. I grew up in a nursing home (my mom took care of elders at our house) and they almost always had some form of dementia. It was interesting to see how it played out with different people, personalities, and families. But, it taught me to have a great respect for elders. They know things the rest of us have no clue about. It’s especially sweet when they come up with something so cute and entirely witty in the course of a conversation. Beautiful article, sweet friend! I hope you’re having a wonderful weekend! xo

    1. Cyndi, I have no doubt that you had more of a joyful impact on those seniors in your house growing up than you even realized at the time. Your compassionate spirit radiates in your comment here. Thank you for all you do to help others. The weekend is going well, thanks, and I hope yours is too xo

  2. My mother died from brain cancer. Dementia increased as time passed. While she was of reasonably sound mind, she refused to go live with any family. She did not want to be a burden, so she went to live in a home.
    I bought all of the things she wanted for her final days. I lived away from home for months, and I made her laugh, and she made me laugh. Her sense of humour lasted until very near the end.
    She had a steady stream of visitors, all bearing her favourite foods and goodies.
    She often teased that if she would have known how popular she was going to be, she would have gotten sick sooner.
    Anyway, do all you are capable of, but don’t be surprised if you end up feeling you didn’t do enough.

    1. I didn’t want to put a “liked” on this comment Resa but I also saw it’s humour and sweetness. That time you spent with her is irreplaceable. Her popularity shows how loved she was and isn’t that what all of us really want in life. Thank you for sharing such a beautiful memory xo

  3. Excellent post Christy. As you may be aware, my beautiful fairy of a Mom has cognitive degeneration which I feel sure falls under the umbrella of Alzheimer’s although I have been told on many occasions that Mom does not have Dementia. However, your tips are spot on. You have to learn to be patient – that isn’t easy in itself. It’s a transition for both carer and cared for. Sometimes the mood is happy, sometimes sad, sometimes emotional and sometimes fits of laughter. I have learnt, slowly, over the years to just go with the flow. Treat them with love, dignity, patience and keep them as safe, healthy and happy as you possibly can. Great post as usual Christy xx

    1. I think your advice to go with the flow is a good one, Dawn. Expecting anything other than the current mood isn’t fair to the loved one. I send you and your mom big, gentle hugs.

  4. With people living longer, more people are being affected with dementia, and people should learn how to communicate with them. Your tips are good ones including keeping a sense of humor. Elderly people deserve respect no matter how incapacitated they become.

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