People living with dementia experience many difficulties. They may have problems with
language like word-finding struggles, substituting one word for another, or talking in
what’s called a “word salad,” where some of the words make sense and some just sound like
gibberish. When someone’s language skills are impacted by dementia, it’s especially important to be sensitive to the feeling that underlies the person’s speech rather than the words they are using.
You can usually identify whether a person is angry, frustrated, sad, amused, etc. Validating that feeling, whatever it is, is essential. It’s okay to say, “Of course you’re frustrated! I would be too!” or…“I know it’s difficult to find the right word. I’m sorry that’s so hard.” Then you can
offer a guess, i.e., “Does it have to do with ________?” Or, you might just give a vague but reassuring response, like, “Well, I’m not so sure about all that, but I’ll get to the bottom of it.” Then, simply change the subject, i.e., “In the meantime, how about we take a walk?”
Other difficulties people with dementia struggle with may include problems with motor skills, judgment, decision making and sequencing. They may become disoriented to time and/or place. They may seem to lack any initiative. These changes can be very hard for family members to accept, but it is so important to remember that these are all reflections of the disease process that is causing the person’s dementia, not of the person who is still inside, and is still very here. It is helpful to focus on the skills and strengths that people with dementia have, instead of the losses. Persons with dementia generally retain an amazing sense of humor. They can be delightfully creative in their responses to the world around them. They still retain music (and lyrics), rhythm, prayers and other rituals, long-term memory, social graces, and they are extremely good at sensing other people’s emotions. In fact they will “borrow” your emotions from time to time, so it’s best to present them with ones you would like them to reflect back to you! Best of all, they never lose the ability to give and receive love.