A Conversation.

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Elizabeth* usually cannot speak. Her dementia has impaired her ability to communicate verbally, but she’s incredibly expressive. Often, if spoken to, she’ll make noises like she’s talking, smile, and motion with her hands. Every once in a while, actual words come out, and it’s nothing short of magical.

We “talk” constantly. I always talk to her, even though it’s a pretty one-sided conversation. She mumbles, nods, and sometimes says one word like, “yes” or “no.”

I approached her at dinner the other day and smiled at her. Elizabeth was pushing her napkin around on the table.

“Are you folding this?” I asked her, expecting, as usual, no real verbal response.

“I was trying to,” she responded, quietly.

I was stunned. The last time she had said a full sentence to me was four months ago. I was thrilled to hear her voice. Although she makes noises, I never get to hear what her voice actually sounds like. It was soft, rhythmic, and kind.

The most interesting thing about this is that she responded completely in-context. Elizabeth knew what we were talking about. This makes me think that, even though she can’t usually use words, she is responding to me in context every time we “talk.“

"I’m glad that you’re talking to me! I like talking to you,” I said to her, trying to continue the conversation.

“I do, too,” she smiled and nodded.

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Rachael Wonderlin is an internationally-recognized dementia care expert and consultant. She has a Master’s in Gerontology and is the author of three published books with Johns Hopkins University Press. Rachael owns Dementia By Day, a dementia care consulting and education company.

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