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How to Talk on the Phone with Someone with Dementia

Uncategorized Apr 05, 2020

Welcome back, Careblazer. I hope you are all hanging in there with the current world circumstance of COVID-19.

In an effort to make my current posts as helpful as possible during this pandemic, I recently asked my Facebook group to submit topics that would be most helpful during this time.

I received several questions on how to handle phone conversations with loved ones who aren’t living in the same home. Maybe they are in a care facility on lock down not allowing visitors or maybe they live on their own and you are not visiting as often as usual.

Specific questions I received included things like “tired of the same phone routine. I call twice a day. I’ve run out of things to talk about. It’s always the same thing.”

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“How do you handle the more frequent phone calls, I want it to be a good conversation with good impact but I don’t know what to say.”

So I’m going to go over a way to think about this situation to get you to a better place in your mind about the more frequent phone calls.

Then, I’m going to share some specific things you can do and talk about during phone calls so that if you decide you want to keep calling, you’ll have some new ideas to try out and you won’t feel like every conversation is a repeat of the last.

Before I get into those specifics I just want to welcome any new readers and welcome back you long time fans.  

Okay, now lets get started.

For starters, ask yourself. Whose perspective are you looking at when it comes to the phone calls. Are you judging the phone call from your perspective or your loved one.

From your perspective, you might feel like you have nothing new to say, the conversation is boring, and it’s pointless and this will lead you to not really want to keep reaching out as much as you are.

From your loved ones perspective it might feel like a break in their day, something to do for a moment, an opportunity for some social interaction. They may not even remember the last conversation.

You also want to Ask yourself: what is your reason for calling your loved one with dementia during this time? Is it to check on them and make sure they are okay? Is it to help make sure they have some social interaction? Or is it to have a good, interactive conversation.

If your goal of the phone call is to have a productive enjoyable and interactive conversation with back and forth action then you may be a bit disappointed with your loved one with dementia doesn’t seem t have much to say.

But if your goal is to just offer them a check in or some social interaction, then it doesn’t really matter what you say or how long the conversation is, or how much you repeat the same things. To your loved one it may be one of the few interactions they have.  

Sometimes, just looking at the conversations from your loved ones point of view rather than your point of view may take some of the pressure off of yourself and reset your expectations that these conversations don’t have to always be something new or engaging.

That’s the mindset piece, but lets take a look at how to make your phone calls more fun and enjoyable for both of you. After all, even if your loved one is fine with the same, short conversations, you may be feeling sick of it. So what can you do?

Here are some specific ideas. Feel free to adjust them based on your loved one’s abilities.

Reminisce:

This is the approach were you have a topic in your mind from the past and you ask your loved one about it. For example, you’d say something like:

-        Tell me about your wedding day. Who was there, where was it. How as the weather, etc.

-        What’s your favorite holiday and how did you spend it as a kid?

-        What was your first car? Where did you go?

-        What was your favorite place you ever visited?

-        Just choose a topic, and ask questions about it. You want to choose topics from their past to increase the chances they will still have ability to remember those things. The worse their memory impairment, the more far back in time you will have to do.

Reminiscence is actually a part of a therapy used in dementia care and you’d be surprised at how people in later stages of dementia can still participate in this. Give it a try.

Play a game:

Think of a game you can play together over the phone. Here are a few game ideas:

-        Guess what I’m looking at: You can each take turns describing something in the room and the other person can try guessing. For example, you can say, I’m looking at something that is square, makes sounds, I look at it when sitting on the couch, and it plays my shows. The answer? the TV.

 -        Scavenger hunt: I also created a game that you can find on my community page on YT. It’s the Careblazer Scavenger Hunt. There are things on there like “something you like about your loved one.” You can share something you love about your loved one and ask them to share something they love about you. Then there’s a one that says “something you’re grateful for.” You can share something your grateful for and then they would do the same. There are even things like something that maeks you laugh, something with your favorite color. It’s like a scavenger hunt that can be be done in person or over the phone.

 Do an activity:

You can even do an activity together or act like you are doing an activity together. For example, if your loved one was a great cook, you can call and say, I was wanting to make your awesome chocolate chip cookie recipe, how do I do that again? And then let your LOWD walk you through the steps as much as possible. Remember, it doesn’t matter whether they do it correctly or remember all the steps, it’s about connecting over the phone and giving them that social connection. You don’t even really need to make the cookies if you don’t want, it’s more the act of a productive conversation.

Read a book together on the phone. You can read it to your LOWD or they can read to you.

Share the calls:

If you are just feeling too stressed and annoyed by the calls for whatever reason…no judgment: ask for friends, family, church members, neighbors to call your loved one. That way they are still getting the interactions and check-ins but they don’t always have to be from you.

There is also a national friendship line for seniors over the age of 60. It’s through the institute of aging and if your loved one is able to dial a number and would be interested in talking to someone, they can call 800-971-0016, 24/7 to talk to a friendly voice.

Careblazer I hope this helps you connect more with your loved one on the phone. If you know of a Careblazer who could benefit from this, please share it with them.

I’ll be back next week as always with another post!

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