Okay, I admit, “Magic Words” is a bit of an exaggerated title for my topic. But the words I’m going to mention ARE powerfully helpful in dementia care. I recommend keeping them on the tip of your brain and using them often.
To be clear, “So what?” is NOT something I recommend that you say TO a person with dementia. But it’s something we may need to say to ourselves when the person we are caring for does something unusual, socially unacceptable, or unexpected.
Lots of things that people with dementia do are “so what?” situations, meaning whatever the person is doing is not hurting themselves or anyone else in any significant way. Perhaps your Dad still gets dressed on his own. This morning, all the buttons match up with the buttonholes and everything is perfectly clean. Fantastic! The only problem is that Dad chose a plaid shirt to go with striped pants. Unless the Queen is stopping by for tea (highly unlikely during the pandemic), so what? Be grateful and complimentary. Just because the Dad of days gone by wouldn’t have chosen that sartorial combo is no reason to rain on the persons’ success in this moment right now.
Maybe at tea time, your wife keeps putting sugar after sugar after sugar in her tea. Unless she must avoid sugar due to diabetes or some other medical concern, is this worth getting into a big power struggle over? Have YOU ever eaten too much sugar?...So what? Did you live?...Good to hear! You might simply make sure next time that there is a limited amount of sugar readily available. Perhaps offering some fresh fruit would be an added compensatory strategy.
How often do you say the word “YES!” to the person you’re caring for?
I recently heard about a new member in one of our Ebenezer memory care communities who was very anxious. She responded very well when the care team figured out that starting every sentence with the word “YES!” (pay special attention to that exclamation point) in answer to her concerns helped her feel understood and kept her calm.
Here are some examples:
- I didn’t get any breakfast! YES! you must be hungry! Let’s find you a little snack.
- I don’t know what to do! YES! And I’m going to help you get busy!
- I want my mother! YES! Your mother means the world to you! I miss my mom too!
- I need to get to work! YES! You are such a good worker! You know, they called to say you have the day off today, but I have a job for you.
Do you think “You’re right!” could be substituted for “YES!” in any of the above examples? Yes! You’re right!
The words “I wonder” are extremely useful. Use “I wonder” instead of asking so many questions. Questions can feel overwhelming for persons with dementia. “I wonder” keeps pressure off the person. Wondering is about you, not about them. It’s gentle. It simply conveys curiosity, which makes life easier for a person with dementia who may feel overwhelmed by a direct question or by having to make a choice.
Instead of asking the person, “Do you want to do this or do you want to do that?” experiment with “I wonder”. For fun, read the following statements out loud. Make sure you are truly wondering and not inflecting your voice as though you were asking a question.
- I wonder if you’d like to wear this red shirt today.
- I wonder if I could help you get freshened up for the party.
- I wonder how you’re feeling right now.
- I wonder how you got so smart.
Thanks for reading this blog!
Jennifer Anderson, Educare, Cyndy Luzinski, SPECAL training and Teresa Brenneke, Ebenezer all provided insight on this topic.
-- Marysue Moses, Dimensions Program Coordinator, email@example.com