Visiting a friend with dementia can be challenging. One definition of dementia is "deprived of mind" and those affected by it can swing from one emotional extreme to another in minutes. They may communicate well during one visit and be angry and non-verbal the next. If you imagine the person is in a foreign land, where everything is different and confusing, it can help you cope with their behaviors. They aren't trying to be difficult, they are trying to make sense of the world around them. Here are some things you can do when you visit:
1. Read to them. This will prevent them from having to answer questions that might confuse them. Choose a book that has small sections that can stand on their own since your friend might not remember what you read the last time you visited. Read slowly and make eye contact often so they will feel connected with you.
2. Sing to them. Since singing and speaking come from different parts of the brain, many people with dementia can remember lyrics to their favorite songs even when they have forgotten how to speak. You can ask other family members or friends which songs the individual might enjoy and sing them often. If you aren't a singer, listen to them together instead.
3. Bring pictures. Find pictures of some of the fun times you spent with your friend. Look through the pictures together and tell them what you remember. Vision can stimulate a different part of the brain so you might help them remember something. You could make a scrapbook or photo book of these photos and leave it there for them to look at later.
4. Validate their feelings. You may not understand why they are feeling the way they are, but you can still validate those feelings. Listen to whatever they have to say, nod and smile, make eye contact, hold their hand, and tell them you understand. Feel free to cut the visit short and visit another time if your visit doesn't seem welcome.
5. Bring a plant or some flowers. These will brighten the room and remind the person that you care about them.
6. Don't expect recognition. As the dementia continues, your friend might not recognize you anymore. Always introduce yourself when you first arrive. You may need to treat each visit as if you are meeting for the first time.
While it will be painful to watch your friend slowly slip away, you can develop a new relationship with them with every visit.
Sometimes things don't work out as we have planned them to. Instead of being able to take care of your aging parent in your home for several years, it may prove to be more difficult than you first thought. I brought my mother to live with my family hoping to enjoy her final years with her, but it didn't work out well for any of us. I wasn't able to care for her the way that she deserved to be cared for. Our blog will provide you with information about making the decision to move your loved one into a nursing home.