Welcome back Careblazer!
One of you recently commented under one of my videos and it was such an important comment I thought it was worthy of a video. It’s about the idea of treating someone with dementia with respect and dignity when speaking to them or about them. I’m going to share 3 common ways caregivers may be condescending when talking to or about their loved ones in a way that lacks dignity and negatively impacts the relationship. I also recently got a question about how to offer help and care without making the person feel incompetent or needy. I think today’s topic helps address both of these questions.
If you would rather watch my video on this topic, click here.
It’s easy to unintentionally talk to or about your loved one with dementia in a way that is condescending. I don’t think most people do this on purpose, it's just that after seeing your loved one go downhill and having to do SO MUCH for our loved ones, it can sometimes feel like they don’t really process a lot or understand a lot so what’s the harm in talking to them like a child or talking about all their problems in front of them. Well the thing is, it does make a difference and it does hurt the relationship. But here is what that does. It pulls apart at your relationship. It makes them start to resent you, resist you, it leads to more difficult dementia behaviors.
I don’t think any of you want that. So let’s just go over some of these mistakes and how you can change if you hear yourself in any of the examples I’m about to do over.
Let me go over a few common things that I’ve witnessed and how you can change them.
TALKING TO YOUR LOVED ONE LIKE A CHILD - tone of voice and what you say.
This is what I like to call “baby talk.” Now talking to your loved one like they are a child can be okay if they are in the very severe stages of dementia and their brain has regressed to a point in time where they feel like they are much younger than they are. There can be a place for this.
BUT what I often see is talking to your loved one like they are a baby when they are in the more mild and moderate stage. I work with a lot of older male veterans and when people all of a sudden start talking to them like a child with the tone of their voice they get offended. This isn’t particular to people with dementia either, it can happen to older people in general. Just be mindful of it.
CORRECTING AND TALKING ABOUT BASIC THINGS IN A CONDESCENDING WAY
Just because your loved one can’t do certain things anymore or requires your help, doesn’t mean you have to constantly remind them. This type of thing really breeds resent and harms the relationship. What I often see are family members talking to their loved one in the mild to moderate stage as if they are a kid needing correcting or that they can’t understand basic things. There’s a big difference between saying something like, "now remember what we talked about earlier, you can’t do that" vs. "here try it this way."
"That’s not safe for you to do anymore" vs. "Here let me help with that."
It seems like a small thing, but it’s huge. You’re loved one isn’t associating you with someone always telling them what they can’t do or what they are doing wrong. It’s in the subtlety in your approach.
And if your like a lot of the Careblazers, you’re feeling so frustrated and at the end of your rope that when you do talk to them, the tone and impatience is obvious in your voice.
TALKING ABOUT YOUR LOVED ONE
Because it seems like your loved one doesn’t understand so much, it may be easy to assume they don’t understand when you talk bad about them. Do you find yourself on the phone talking to a family member or friend while your loved one is in the same room and you are talking about the mistake they made, the accident they had, how hard it is on you, how much they’ve gone downhill.. Be cautious of this.
On the same token, talking about how much struggle your loved one is having in front of them at the doctor. These things pull away at the relationship.
Now this doesn’t mean you can’t do these things. You obviously need to vent, talk to others, let the doctor know what’s really going on. You just need to find a way to do it that is respectful and preferably not so obvious to your loved one. Talking on the phone from the kitchen while your loved one is engrossed in watching TV. Finding a respectful way to let the doctor know your concerns, while providing more detailed concerns in writing on a piece of paper. I can’t tell you how many times family members do this and it’s helpful. Or positioning yourself in the back of the patient and nodding yes/no when the person with dementia answers questions to signal whether it’s correct or incorrect.
I want to challenge you to ask yourself if you are talking to or about your loved one in a way that may be disrespectful or rude. Is there a different way you can correct them or help them without having to highlight the fact that they are doing it wrong or that they need the help? How can you inform the doctor and nurses about how your loved one’s doing in a way that doesn’t interrupt or correct your loved one every time they speak? Start asking yourself these questions and play around with making some changes.
I promise, the more you are able to change your approach to talk to and about your loved one, the better the relationship gets. Talking to your loved one or about your loved one in a way that feels disrespectful or condescending, even if it seems like they don’t fully understand or hear, will harm the relationship. Like most things in dementia, the relationship and their behavior improves as you make the changes.
What do you think? Have you ever seen people or have you ever been guilty of some of the above behavior? I know I certainly have with some of my patients. Just be aware of it and see about changing some of it.
Next week, I’ll talk about this idea of respect and dignity when actually performing care tasks such as bathing, toileting and dressing. Talk about some of THE most difficult tasks for caregivers and I hope next week’s video will help make it a bit easier.
Careblazer, I hope this has been helpful to you. Be sure to download your free Careblazer survival guide if you haven’t already and here is the link to a video I did on how to improve your dementia caregiver relationship.