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“How did mom eat today? Did she eat all of her lunch?” she asked, as her mother stood beside her. 

“Does dad give you any trouble during his showers? He always did at home,” he’d say, putting his arm around his father.

“She’s really tough in the late afternoons, you know, that sundowning thing. I’m thinking about asking the doctor for some better medication,” he said, smiling at his sister.

You’d never talk about someone while they were standing next to you, so I don’t know why family members do this to people with dementia. It always drives me mad when people talk about residents as if they aren’t standing there. Just because a woman has dementia doesn’t mean that she can’t hear you. It doesn’t mean that she is oblivious.

Include your loved one with dementia in the conversation. If you were at a party and everyone around you was talking to each other, you’d feel left out. You’d wonder why people weren’t addressing you directly. 

For example, I try to guide the conversation so that it involves the resident.

“Well, we had a pretty good lunch today, don’t you think, Marilyn*?” I’ll say.

Even if Marilyn doesn’t remember lunch, she feels included. I’m able to provide information for the family member, but I’m not excluding the resident.

Just because someone has dementia doesn’t mean that he or she should suddenly be talked about instead of spoken to.

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Rachael Wonderlin has a Master’s in Gerontology and is the author of two published books with Johns Hopkins University Press. She owns Dementia By Day, a dementia care consulting company.

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