As many caregivers know, social interaction can be very important to a person with dementia. In their earlier lives, they chatted amiably over coffee with a friend or spent time planning parties with a loved one. They still have a need for social interaction, and, while their regular caregivers fulfill a part of that need, it’s important that they continue to interact with a wider circle when possible.
The problem, of course, is that their dementia sometimes makes such interactions difficult. But that doesn’t mean caregivers shouldn’t try to set up encounters. The following tips may be helpful in making such encounters successful.
- Control the time and place. Most people with dementia don’t do as well in a strange environment, so arrange social activities someplace that is familiar. If it requires traveling (even just a few blocks away), allow enough time so that the trip isn’t rushed and hectic. And pick a time when the person with dementia is likely to be “fresh.”
- Share information. Caregivers are used to dealing with their loved one with dementia, but people who aren’t in the environment on a daily basis may need some preparation. Be sure that the friends or relatives involved know what to expect. Talk with them in advance, and let them know how to react if certain things occur.
- Give some tips in advance. Also share some basic tips about communicating with a person with dementia: Talk slowly and clearly. Don’t talk too loudly. Call the patient by name when talking to them. Don’t use words which may seem strange, etc.
- Plan the activity. The visit doesn’t have to be structured 100%, but the caregiver should have some plan for how the visit will run. For example, after the greeting, a little snack, followed by time looking through a photo album with pictures of the loved one and the visitor, then a walk in the garden so the loved one can show off her green thumb.
- Thank the visitor. Be sure to let the visitor know how much it means that they were able to meet with the loved one. And let them know you are happy to answer any questions they may have about how the patient is coping.
Even with the best laid plans, a social event can still go wrong. But it’s worth trying to keep a loved one with dementia feeling connected to others.