by George J Huba PhD (Psychology)
Dementia is a time that gets extremely complicated for a person with dementia and their spouse, family, friends, new social acquaintances, healthcare providers, and caregivers.
Probably the biggest issue is that those who interact with the person with dementia expect the PWD to communicate in a way that is diminished but still like the way a typical person without dementia communicates just now at a lower level.
It is difficult to communicate with a person with dementia because their own experience of communications is now shaped by the brain changes and other symptoms of dementia. What about your Mom who no longer smiles when you say something she has always liked or when you bring her the pistachio ice cream she has always loved? Ever consider the possibility that she thinks she is smiling but has no control over nonverbal communication such as her smile. Brain damage of various types can cause the loss of nonverbal communication abilities or control of facial muscles.
Why does your friend always get overwhelmed and say something stupid when there are lots of other people around? Perhaps they can’t focus on what you are saying because there is so much noise and motion from distracting sources?
Ever wonder why your friend with dementia comes back with an answer to a question five minutes after you asked the question? Brain changes and damage during dementia may make it hard to retrieve information or think and a loss of a sense of time may mean your friend keeps working on answering the question long after the conversation has moved on.
In dementia, a daydream may be as vivid as something in the real world, and just as distracting. In dementia, you can’t deal with too much information because it distracts you and can’t “fill in the blank spaces” if you receive too little because your “executive functioning” has been destroyed. You tend to get anxious during a conversation not only from unpleasant topics but also from worrying so much about missing a word or forgetting a name or misinterpreting a suggestion as hostile when it was just a normal joke.
The physical and psychological consequences of dementia combine to make it seem that a person with dementia is speaking a different language. They are.
And yes, those 20 or more pills the person with dementia may take daily can affect the ability to speak clearly, pay attention, be sleepy, look like they are bored when they are not, or become even more anxious.
Additional thoughts are arranged on the mind map below.
Click on the image to expand it.
Always try to remember that the person with dementia is often not disinterested or misunderstanding you or too tired to think or extremely distracted in what you think is a peaceful environment.
And if you are a person with dementia, remember that your friend is not trying to mislead you or express hostility and disapproval. They are not trying to trick you or harm you or pick a fight. You might not remember a conversation your caregiver says you had 10 minutes ago, so get over it and trust the other person. Nobody is criticizing you as a person because you can no longer tie your shoelaces or your necktie.
All parties in a conversation with a person who has dementia need to realize that the “rules” for the social encounter have changed because of the disease. Both persons with dementia and their families and friends and caregivers need to realize that is just as hard for all parties to figure out this new “language of dementia.” But it can be done and when mastered can liberate everyone to some degree.
Learn to laugh and smile and enjoy the company of each other again. The positive emotions are still there but they may have to be expressed in different ways. Learn how to express oneself when one or more parties has dementia. It’s worth the time. For everyone.
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