The Keys to Connection Three-­Part Series When Engaging with a Loved One or Client with Memory Impai


We hope you found Part One of IMC’s series The Keys to Connection beneficial. If you missed Part­-One to our three ­part series you can find it by clicking this link: Part-­One

You’ve followed the steps to setup the best interaction possible. Now it’s time to engage! Here are some of Inspired’s keys for connecting during conversation:

● Give opportunities for the sharing of wisdom and advice. ​Many people with dementia have lead very generative, successful lives, but no longer feel valued or heard. Asking a person what he or she “would do” vs. what he or she “did do” not only enables opinion-based conversation (much more successful than fact-­based), but breeds a sense of meaning and esteem (very important for all human beings at any stage of life!).

Pause. ​It can take a person with memory impairment up to thirty seconds to fully process your question or comment before answering you. Rushing him or her by asking another question too quickly is frustrating and will shut down communication. Practice timing your ability to remain silent in casual conversation (count: one Mississippi, two Mississippi, etc). It will create awareness and hone the pace of your conversation.

Offer choice.​ If a person with dementia is having a hard time answering an open-­ended question, it is okay to give two­-three possible choices as answers if word­-finding is difficult. Also, often times showing the choices while verbally asking can connect the verbal with the visual and elicit a response more easily.

● Have pictures, short video clips, or even better ­­ an iPad available to build context​. Using visual or auditory cues can often help an individual with memory impairment to connect with the person, place or thing you are discussing in the moment.

Echo. ​At times, an individual with dementia may be speaking and drift off into thought or simply forget where they were in the conversation. At this time many of us try to finish the thought. Instead, the next time try pausing, then echoing your loved one or client by simply restating the last sentence or thought he or she shared. You will find that the individual can continue his or her thought and reengage in the conversation in their “own” words.

Be mindful that the following may hinder a connection:

Rushing.​ As mentioned above, comprehension, recall, and speech production can all take some additional time. Adding more information to the mix by asking a new question or moving on can be very frustrating. Relax, stay present and listen for the wisdom to shine through.

Speaking about the individual without including him or her in the conversation.​This can be very painful to friends and family members with dementia, who want to remain part of the group and who also happen to be the best resources on their own thoughts and feelings! Please be mindful as you converse.

We hope these techniques will help you enjoy your best connections with your loved one or client. Please share your questions and suggestions on our blog by clicking here. Many thanks to Katie & Elissa at Live Connected for featuring our series!

Inspired Memory Care, Inc., is a memory­-care consulting firm based in Manhattan. Kelly Gilligan and Nettie Harper founded the practice to meet the needs of families, facilities, and agencies serving elders with cognitive impairment. It is their strong conviction that individuals with dementia (in all stages) want and deserve to be viewed as people, rather than as people with a disease. As human beings, they need sustained connections with loved ones, meaningful roles within the community, and access to learning and beauty. But changing the world around them takes creativity, expertise, and ­­ often ­­ time that caregivers don’t always have! Kelly and Nettie dedicate their careers to opening doors previously locked to this population through supplemental programming, creative interventions, and adaptive experiences. They partner with direct caregivers, facility teams, and families to support them in achieving an Inspired life with their clients and loved ones.

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