“She’s standing right here.”

4

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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.

What do all of these questions have in common? They’re asked ABOUT a person living with dementia in FRONT of the person living with dementia. You’d never talk about someone while they were standing next to you, so why do this to someone living with dementia?

This is a common mistake when caring for a person living with dementia: to assume that they don’t know what you’re talking about, or won’t mind, if you talk about them as if they aren’t standing right beside you.

Here’s my best advice:

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 probably wonder why people weren’t addressing you directly. 

For example, I try to guide the conversation so that it involves the individual, instead of being “about” them. If someone were to ask me, “How did mom eat today at lunch?” I might reply, “Well, we had a pretty good lunch today, don’t you think, Marilyn?”

Even if Marilyn doesn’t remember lunch, she feels included. Even if she’s unable to speak or vocalize how she feels about the lunch, she’s involved in the conversation. I did this very often as a Dementia Care Director: I was able to provide information for the family member without excluding the resident.

Just because someone has dementia doesn’t mean that he or she should suddenly be talked about instead of spoken to or engaged with. Everyone feels better when they know they’re involved, not just “about” as the subject of the conversation.

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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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