How to stop quizzing people with dementia in 5 steps

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You know what it means to “quiz” someone with dementia, even if you don’t call it that. Quizzing means that you try to get your loved one with dementia to tell you something that you already know, or that you try to get them to remember something.

Here are 5 steps to get you out of the bad habit of quizzing:

1. Take the word “remember” out of your vocabulary. Unless you’re referring to something that happened years ago, such as, “Do you remember what your first date with dad was like?” don’t use the word. People with dementia have poor short-term memories. It’s not fair to try and force them to remember.

2. Understand that, in many types of dementia, the new information doesn’t even get stored in the person’s brain. So, when you’re asking someone to recall information, recognize that it may not even be available. Sometimes when it does get stored, the person will have trouble retrieving it. Dementia is a group of brain diseases, and, although these diseases can be frustrating, it’s important to recognize that.

3. When your loved one says, “You didn’t tell me that!” don’t respond with anger. Instead, respond with an apology. “I’m sorry,” you may say. “I must have forgotten to tell you about your doctor’s appointment today.” Although it’s frustrating, and you know that you did tell them, it’s easier to accept the blame than start a fight.

4. Stop asking what your loved one did today, ate for breakfast, or if they took their pills. Instead, ensure that someone is there to help them do these things. People with dementia should not live alone. They don’t have the capacity to keep themselves safe, and they won’t remember if they took their medications or not.

5. Pause—and then change your question to a statement. Before you ask about something that you know they did or did not do, pause. Think about what you’re going to say, and how it will affect them. Change, “What did you have for breakfast today?” to, “I’m glad you enjoyed your pancakes this morning.” If your loved one says, “I didn’t have pancakes!” you can just say, “Oh, my mistake.” Give them the information instead of asking for it.

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2 thoughts on “How to stop quizzing people with dementia in 5 steps”

  1. This is excellent advice. I am guilty of getting most frustrated over #3 with my mother. It is actually healing to me when I DO remember instead of responding like a kid being scolded by my mother.

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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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