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Communicating with Someone Who Has Memory Loss

Caring for someone with memory loss can be extremely frustrating, especially if your loved one asks the same question repeatedly. But people with Alzheimer’s and other forms of dementia often experience delusions and hallucinations, which can make communicating even more difficult.

Delusions are false beliefs, such as thinking a spouse is having an affair or that a relative is stealing items.

Hallucinations are false perceptions, such as hearing or seeing something that isn’t there.

How to React

The natural instinct of a compassionate caregiver is to reassure the person that these thoughts or perceptions aren’t real. But correcting, arguing, or reasoning rarely work and usually just cause frustration for both people. Instead:

  • Listen seriously to what the person is saying
  • Acknowledge his or her feelings
  • Reassure him or her
  • Redirect attention or distract when you can

For example, if your father imagines that strangers are watching him through his bedroom window, agree how scary that would be. Assure him that he’s safe with you, then suggest you go to the kitchen for a snack. Consider closing the curtains before he goes back into the bedroom. Similarly, if your wife is convinced her wallet is missing, offer to help her look for it without questioning. If an item is lost frequently, consider keeping a duplicate or two in reserve.

Tips to Reorient and Reduce Confusion

  1. Minimize conditions that might cause or add to disorientation. Bright lighting can eliminate shadows that might be misinterpreted; background noises or loud appliances may add to confusion.
  2. A gentle touch, such as a pat on the arm, can help bring someone back to the present time and place.
  3. Take your loved one’s concerns seriously and let him or her know you care. Your tone of voice and facial expressions matter.
  4. Don’t take offense if you’re accused. A smile and encouragement can go a long way in comforting a person with dementia.

Keep in mind that your loved one may experience delusions and hallucinations that provide comfort. If that’s the case, there may be no need to address the situation. And finally, remember that it is possible that your loved one might be a victim, so watch for signs of abuse and investigate suspicions or accusations (such as nursing home theft) that could be true.

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