How to change the conversation for real results


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How can you see the forest through the trees to get real results when communicating with someone living with dementia?

“Why are you ALL HERE!?” he demanded. “What are you all doing in my house? Get OUT!”

It was 2014 and I was working as the Dementia Care Director at my first-ever dementia care community.

One my newer residents, Chris, was angry. He came out of his room to find a few residents sitting and watching TV in the common area.

In his mind, however, this common area was his living room. “You! I want you out of here!” he yelled, pointing to one of the men.

I could sense trouble brewing, particularly because he’d pointed to the biggest guy in the room—and a guy that wasn’t keen on ignoring this type of confrontation.

I quickly moved over to Chris and pulled him aside. After just a few seconds, I knew what I had to do: I had to change the conversation in order to change the situation.

“Chris, this is my fault,” I said. “I wanted to throw a dinner party and I invited all of these people over. It’s so nice of you to let all of them have dinner with us!” I said.

Suddenly, Chris calmed down. His brow softened and his fists dropped to his sides.

“Oh,” paused, thinking it over. Looking up at the room he called aloud, “Hey! You all are invited to our dinner party! Thank you for coming!”

Suddenly, Chris felt like a hero.

I had thanked him for “letting” all of these residents stay for dinner, and he felt like he’d done something nice.

“Here, everyone follow me to the dining room!” he called. “Welcome to my house!”

How can you change your next dementia care conversation to benefit both you and the person living with dementia?

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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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