For years, she gave you life advice, but now she can barely remember the days of the week. How do you re-establish your communication pattern with your mom, when she can no longer remember simple things?
When forgotten words or a misplaced key turns into more serious memory loss, it can be difficult to re-establish how to communicate effectively with your parents. Some memory difficulties can be considered a normal part of aging; forgetting a word or name momentarily, only to remember it later, or making an unusual error while balancing the checkbook, for example.
But when daily functions become more difficult and illnesses such as dementia and Alzheimer's start to impact ordinary life, it's time to develop a new communication strategy to ensure your mom (or dad) is safe and well cared for. Knowing what you're up against in advance will help create smoother conversations, with less frustration for you both.
3 Tips About How to Talk to Your Mom Who has Dementia
- Give Mom your full attention
Don't try and talk to your mom from another room or while you're busying yourself cooking; sit together and make eye contact, minimize distractions (turn background television and radio off). These small, but important, steps will set the tone for a successful conversation.
- Speak clearly and succinctly
Try and stick to the “one sentence, one point” rule. If you have an important topic to chat about, such as managing Mom’s medication or appointments that need to be remembered, don't overwhelm her with information. One big topic is enough per conversation.
- Be patient - give time and then more time
When it's Mom's time to talk, make sure you give her the time she needs to finish her sentences, even if it's taking longer than usual. Feeling that you are being heard is important at any age, and conversations should be a two-way street. Remember that the role reversal of telling your mom what she should be doing is going to be difficult for her as well as you, so be sensitive to her feelings.
Dealing with a parent who has difficulty remembering things due to a cognitive illness can lead to frustrating and sometimes very sad conversations. Try not to take the fact that she doesn’t remember important details about your life and other confusion personally; in some moments, your mom may realize that she is not remembering everything as she should and will probably have intense feelings around this too. It is a sensitive time for everyone, but there are tips to maintain frustration-free conversations with your mom.
4 More Communication Tips to Help You Talk to Mom When Dementia Leads to Memory Loss
- Reassure and validate rather than rationalize
If your mom is confused and it's making her feel fearful or unhappy, rather than trying to rationalize with her, find out what it is that is causing her upset. Perhaps she is longing to be somewhere from her past, or is upset because she has become aware of her cognitive issues. Reassure her that everything is okay and that you are there for her. Tell her you understand how she must be feeling and let her know that you will work together to manage the situation.
- Don't minimize fears or worries, even if you think they are irrational
It's common for older people with memory problems to feel paranoid, suspicious or upset. Sometimes these fears or concerns can seem irrational to you and it's tempting to brush them off as such. But remember that these feelings are very real to your mom. Try to support and validate her feelings, even if you know that there is no real threat or cause for concern.
- Don't correct petty inaccuracies
Try to resist from correcting your mom every time she says something inaccurate, as long as there are no negative consequences. Confusing a neighbor's name or remembering the wrong television show in a story are minor mistakes and being corrected multiple times in a conversation could lead to frustration and irritation on both sides.
- Minimize pain by being fluid with the truth
As cognitive issues such as Alzheimer's progress, you will likely experience some difficult and painful times with your mom. She may start to forget who you are or talk to you as if you are someone else from the distant past. If, for example, Mom suddenly starts talking about Dad who has already passed away, rather than explaining over and over again that he is no longer here (which could be very upsetting to your mom), it’s ok to go along with Mom’s “reality”, explaining that your dad will be back soon.
Having conversations with your mom now that she is experiencing these memory issues, on whatever scale, is likely to be difficult for you. It can easily become an emotional and physical drain trying to keep on top of her growing needs.
Be kind to yourself, get as much help as you can from siblings and other support networks, and recognize the right time to start getting some more significant help to share the load. Home Care is an excellent solution for those parents who need some assistance to ensure that they are safe in their own home.
When the time comes, consider Home Care as an option; it means your mom can stay in her own, comfortable environment and enjoy a good quality of life while you will have peace of mind that she is coping with her day-to-day tasks.
If your parent has cognitive issues that are affecting her daily life but you don’t want her to move out of her home, it may be time to get in touch with our team.