How do you have a conversation with someone who has dementia? What do you talk about?

It’s pretty challenging when the person you love can’t follow along. Usual conversation topics such as family members, current events and memories don’t work. Plus, even if you find a good topic, there is great difficulty keeping a conversation going when the other person loses their train of thought mid-sentence.

What to do? How do you avoid frustration as a caregiver, family member, friend?

There was a great show on This American Life called “Rainy Days and Mondys” that walks in the shoes of a couple caring for her mother who has dementia.

The couple was searching for answers on how to cope with mom’s many behavioral issues. How do you deal with mom when she gets up at 2:00 a.m. and starts getting dressed? What do you do when she says she wants to go ‘home’ and she’s already there?

Out of frustration, the daughter looked up “rules for dealing with dementia.”

And the words “step in their world” jumped out at her on a website.

This is actually a phrase used in “improv” theater to describe when acting partners set the stage for an improvised scene.

You never say “no” and you never question the other actor’s premise.  You just start to work with whatever it is.

It turns out that this was a great way to converse with mom.

So, when mom says that there are monkeys outside the window, instead of saying “No mom, there aren’t any monkeys outside” … try … “Monkeys, this time of year? It’s a bit early for monkeys, isn’t it?” And that’s the beginning of a conversation. Pretty soon mom is laughing and having a good time.

Instead of trying to correct your loved one or getting frustrated that he/she is wrong, try “stepping into their world” and starting each moment from a new place.


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