Being diagnosed with dementia is an incredibly worrying time. What makes it worse is when those who you know and love simply don’t know what to say to you. Moving through the different phases of dementia is an individual and unique journey but there are things you can do to help.

Many people find it hard to talk to someone with dementia. Conversations can be disjointed or repetitive which makes it difficult. A situation that is new for many of us and not really what you call a ‘normal’ conversation.  Which is why it’s important to find that connection and a series of topics that will bring them back to you.

The world suddenly becomes much smaller

For those with dementia, their world will become increasingly smaller. Losing the confidence to do activities that were once so familiar. Finding solace in their home, a familiar and safe environment. Gradually becoming less active, seeing fewer people and not venturing far from their front door.

The topic of conversation becomes a lot narrower. Something we don’t always consider but it is a factor. They start to repeat themselves but insist it’s the first time you’ve been told. Which is why it’s not very nice to admit, but this can be a source of irritation for some. But little point correcting them as they won’t accept your version. Better just to go with it and have the conversation again.

If you accept this situation at face value and remember that dementia is a disease you can help. Assess each day as it comes and how they are feeling. What topics are on their mind, are there things they are worried about, have a conversation around these areas. Seek to reassure and if they reference the past, talk about it in the present day as if it was only yesterday.

Take a step back in time

Reminiscing is something we all do. You forget about the bad and focus on the good bits. This is a huge advantage for those who suffer from dementia. It will take them to a happier place and for many, the reality is they believe it only happened last week. Remembering their childhood, the people and events of that era. An association with any of these areas will encourage them to make a connection and talk about what happened.

But it’s not always about when they were young it can also be more recent events. What happened last year can also be a source of great memories. It could be related to a hobby or interest may be a holiday that was enjoyed. There is a lot of value in understanding their life experiences. Here are some great ways to help you with having these sorts of conversations

Three ways to have a conversation about the past

Number one

Sit down and document how they live their life. It’s a good way to ensure the conversation is relevant. If you know the individual you can start to record what they like doing from a social, professional and hobby perspective. You may also discover something you never knew about them.

What they did as a job, gardening, baking even walking are all topics you can have a conversation around. Asking questions about these areas will help them remember and they will be able to engage with you.

Number two

Draw a simple family tree which details your immediate family. This will help them remember people. Show who is married to who and what children they have. Placing a picture against each name will help with recognition and build the association.

If you have the time and desire, you could investigate your Ancestry in more detail. Gather as much information as you can from the family to ensure it’s not lost and build out the details. Using a structured approach like this will help with putting names on the page.

Number three

Photographs are very precious and always in danger of being lost forever. Before the world of iPhones and cloud-based storage, they were the only way of recording events and people. Which is why it’s important to treasure these documents, it’s your family history.

You could make a book of the photographs with relevant captions. This will include names, dates, places and events. It’s something you can always use to prompt a conversation. A reminder of days gone by and a lasting, personal history book for your family to enjoy.

Video is another way you can record your family’s story.  If you think about the conversations you have with your loved ones, there are a lot of stories that are told which could be easily forgotten. Why not record them so they are there for future generations.

September 2020 was World Alzheimer’s Month, a chance to raise awareness for this cruel disease. One of the ways you can help people is by becoming a Dementia Friend. Part of this is about having conversations. Encouraging connections with a life they may have forgotten. These ideas will help by exploring their past and ensure you will be able to support them.

What tips do you have for using the past to help someone with dementia?

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