Wednesday, February 24, 2016

Dementia and Communication: 5 Easy Ways to Start a Conversation

What To Do When Your Mom Sleeps 
All Day Long

So often, I hear the same complaint  from family members and caregivers:

My mom sleeps all day long.
My dad just sits here watching TV.
She never has anything to say.
He's stopped talking to us.

My typical response:

Give her a reason to stay awake.
Offer him something else to do.
Ask the right questions, talk about the right things.
Provide opportunities for conversation.

Yesterday, I was talking with a daughter of a patient about the importance of creating opportunities to communicate, socialize, interact and connect. The patient has dementia but is still able to function on a conversational level when the subject is simple and and now.  I gave a few examples of ways to initiate conversation and promote exchange. I emphasized the importance of providing chances for engagement and socialization. 

This daughter appeared to be listening attentively. She nodded to agree and then said the one thing that makes me cringe every time:

I'll  buy some flashcards at the dollar store. We can talk about those.


These cartoon cards are perfect if you want to teach a toddler the ABCs but they are juvenile and irrelevant to the daily lives older adults. No matter how hard you might try, there's just no way you can have a meaningful conversation with flashcards like these. Instead...

Here is a list of things a speech pathologist recommends for striking up great conversation with a spouse, parent, friend, neighbor or patient.

Dementia and Communication:
5 Super Easy Ways to Start a Conversation

1.  Use the newspaper:
  • read and discuss the headlines
  • go shopping using the sales circulars 
  • read the life stories of the people in the obituaries
  • work together to complete the crossword puzzle
  • skim over the police blotter- usually good for a laugh
  • read and discuss the Dear Abby letters 
  • find great coupons then make a shopping list
  • browse the want ads

2.  Use what's on hand:
  • look a photo album together
  • thumb through the pages of a catalog
  • talk about recipes in cookbooks
  • look at magazines
  • sort through the mail together
  • spend some time enjoying beautiful photography in a picture book
  • talk about the family photos, decor and art around the house
  • plan out your television viewing using the TV Guide
  • sing along with the radio
  • read aloud from a book or magazine then discuss 
  • read or retell stories from the Bible
  • reminisce- it's always fun to walk down memory lane

3.  Use an electronic device: 

  • browse Pinterest- personally, I could do that for hours
  • Google search a topic or place of interest 
  • play a simple game- I have apps for tic tac toe, Farkle and Connect Four
  • scroll through posts on Facebook and Instagram
  • create a new post for Facebook or Instagram
  • watch You Tube videos- gotta love those amazing cat videos!
  • see what's available on Craig's List- it can be more fun than you might think
  • use Face Time or Skype to visit with friends and family

4.  Use the television: 

  • talk about current events after watching the news
  • watch a game show and play along -Family Feud, The Price is Right, Wheel of Fortune
  • talk about the characters or the plot of  a TV show during a commercial break
  • watch a cooking show
  • watch a DIY or home improvement show
  • Watch and learn together, then discuss- fabulous programs on:
    • History Channel
    • PBS
    • AMC 
    • Western Channel
    • QVC or HSN
    • Weather Channel- but only as a last resort

5.  Use others:
  • chat with friends and family member over  the phone
  • invite a neighbor for a brief visit
  • invite a pastor or friend from church to stop by
  • get out and about- talk with neighbors, other shoppers, wait staff, cashiers, etc.
  • visit with home healthcare workers- they've always got a good story to tell

These fun and easy conversation starters are sure to get people talking. Browse through the list and see which ones you might be able to include the next time you want to engage a person with dementia. Pick and choose the ones you like best. As always, modify as needed.

Good luck and have fun!

Oh yeah, if you just have to have flashcards, skip the trip to the dollar store and invest in a set of good quality picture cards. I recommend Pictures for Progress.  As an SLP, I use them every single day to elicit meaningful conversation about real life topics. Try them...I know you will like them!

Think in the morning. Act in the noon. Eat in the evening. Sleep in the night. 
William Blake