COL Simple tips can make dealing with dementia easier

When someone you know has a cognitive impairment, such as dementia, the way you approach them and the way you communicate with them can mean the difference between an enjoyable visit and a stressful one. Though no single technique is 100 percent successful 100 percent of the time, these simple steps might help.

Always approach the person from the front. Because some cognitively impaired people have a limited ability to assess their environment, you are less likely to startle them by approaching them from the front. This also might help them comprehend that you are attempting to speak to them.

Make eye contact. This might mean having to bend or kneel down next to them if they are sitting in a chair or lying in bed so your eyes are level with theirs.

Address them by name. Use the name they are most familiar with and are used to being called.

Use a calm, reassuring voice. A person with a cognitive impairment will respond to the tone of your voice. If you sound anxious or upset, the other person will feel and respond the same way.


Allow the person time to respond. Remember to be patient while they process what they need to do next. Often times, rushing the person can cause further frustration for both of you.

If "no" is not an acceptable answer, then do not ask the question. Instead of asking, "Do you want to take a bath?" you should use a more suggestive approach. For example, "I'm going to help you get into the tub now."

Always tell the person what you are going to do before you start. It is helpful to break down a task into step-by-step descriptions. For example, if you want to help someone put on a sweater, be sure to inform them of what you are about to do. Even those that have advanced cognitive impairment and appear to be noncommunicative might be startled if you just walk up to them and start tugging on their arms.

These are just a few suggestions for communicating with someone with memory or cognitive impairment. Caregivers need to be patient while learning which approach works best with their loved one. If nothing else, just remember the Golden Rule: Do unto others as you would have them do unto you. Put simply, treat others the same way you would like to be treated if the roles were reversed.

Sandra Archer is director of the Advocacy Program in Olmsted County.

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