Wednesday, 7 November 2018

Care Partner Wednesday-- 5 Things Not To Say

She was a sweet lady, and not that old. Her dementia was vascular, and the changes in her in the last year had been profound. She'd come to live with her son and his wife because she could no longer cope on her own. In our little townhouse complex, I lived on one side of the park and they were on the other. The chances of running into her were high.

The thought terrified me.

A shy introvert at the best of times, I wasn't good at conversation. I'd never met anyone with dementia, and I was horrified at the thought that I'd say the wrong thing. Or worse still, have no clue what to say. 

Then it happened. I was at the park with my knitting and the little charges in my daycare when she came out with her family. As if drawn by an invisible magnet, she headed to the bench where I was sitting and plopped down. My smile was tremulous as I looked at her, and I dropped a stitch. What should I say?

She asked about my knitting. A knitter all her life, she didn't realize she could no longer follow a pattern. She asked to see my project, then reached for the pattern, studying it like a final exam. Did I have more patterns? I ran in the house to get them for her. She sat on the bench with me, turning over the patterns, exclaiming at the pictures and reminiscing about projects she'd made. When it was time to go in, she asked if she could borrow some of my patterns, and I gladly handed them over. Her son returned them the next day, but in those few minutes, we were two women chatting on a park bench about knitting. Normal stuff.

In this, my first exposure to someone with dementia, I acted on instinct. Thankfully, I got it right. In the many years since I've cringed to see and hear family members and care partners speak to people with dementia in ways that demeaned them and made them uncomfortable. They aren't bad people, and they don't mean to hurt anyone. They simply don't know.

Here are some things not to say or do:

1) "Do you remember my name?" Chances are, they don't, although they may remember that you are someone important in their lives. But a question like that sets them up for failure and embarrassment.
Better to say, "Grandma, it's your grandson, George. I was hoping we could have a visit."

2) "What did you have for lunch?" First, who cares, and secondly, no, he probably doesn't remember. I've noticed people ask this when they don't know what to say. Seriously, how many people do you ask if they remember what they had for lunch? It's lame.

3) "Do you remember--" Grandpa most likely doesn't remember who you are, so whatever else you are asking him to remember is just too much. Again, besides stressing him out because he doesn't remember, a question like that is guaranteed to make him feel stupid. Better to say something like, "I remember when we used to come and visit and you helped me earn Scout badges. You and I made a campfire together."

4) Don't talk about the elder as if he isn't in the room. "How is my dad doing?" Those are conversations to have privately.

5) Don't use condescending language. "We just had a nice lunch, didn't we George?" It's demeaning. Think to yourself, "Would I talk like this to anyone else in my life?

When I started working with people with dementia, I knew nothing, and I was as nervous as I had been that day at the park. I quickly learned, however, that they are generally the most loving, forgiving people with amazing stories.

Care Partner Wednesday--5 Things Not To Say

1 comment:

  1. I have known people with dementia. These are important things to remember. If the person repeats things over and over, that's okay. The conversation may seem like the first time for that person.