Meaningful Connections Part Three: Empathy Is The Key | Avalon Memory Care

Meaningful Connections Part Three: Empathy Is The Key

In this month’s Meaningful Connections blog, we share some ideas for using empathy and emotional intelligence to reach through the barriers of dementia and create meaningful interactions between you and your loved one.

There are lots of subtle nuances that go into a meaningful conversation. Beyond just the words that are being spoken, we rely on non-verbal cues and our own personal experiences with the person in order to gain insight and meaning to what’s being said (or what’s not being said).

When you’re trying to connect with a loved one with dementia, sometimes conversation can be challenging and downright perplexing. Because of the way the disease progresses, your loved one’s communication style may become illogical and nonlinear, meaning you will have to read into their actions and motivations in order to understand what’s going on in their mind. Here are several ways you can use your emotional intelligence to push past difficulties and engage your loved one in a meaningful, fulfilling way.

Recognize repetition as an invitation to explore.

It’s common for a person with dementia to do or say something over and over, like a question or a word or even an activity. Taken on the surface, this can be incredibly frustrating for the other individual, especially if you’ve answered the same question over and over again. Instead of focusing on the action of the repetition, use your emotional understanding to look past the words and explore what the person is feeling or trying to say.

  • Look for a reason Is your loved one trying to communicate something, or does repetition happen in certain surroundings or time of day? What may be causing this reaction?
  • Focus on the emotion, not the behavior. Think about what your loved one is feeling. Is she worried about missing a doctor’s appointment? Is he bored and asking when mealtime will be as something to look forward to?
  • Redirect the repetition into an activity. For example, if your loved one is asking about dinner, have him or her help set the table or prepare part of the meal. Or suggest a pleasant activity – it’s possible he or she is simply bored.
  • Stay calm, be patient and provide answers. Don’t use logic or get angry with the person. Instead, reassure and provide answers as many times as necessary. You can even write down the answer and post it so he or she can see the answer whenever needed.

Listen, don’t fix.

We all have a desire for understanding and support – that doesn’t change when we develop a disease like dementia. Your loved one’s repetitive behavior may be a manifestation of his or her desire to be supported, listened to and validated. Instead of trying to fix the repetition by taking charge (“please stop; you’ve been asking that same question over and over!”) try to uncover the emotional motivation for the repetition and validate your loved one’s feelings. Acknowledge their feelings in an empathetic, supportive way and encourage them to talk about it (“I know you’re excited about going to the event this afternoon; I am, too! What are you most looking forward to?”). Instead of trying to convince your loved one about reality, validation can help them feel more in control and can dispel any anxiety or discomfort that’s taking place.

Encourage your loved one to express emotion in creative ways.

Studies have shown that while dementia affects our verbal communication, the part of our brain that expresses emotion through artistic endeavors is often affected less. If you’re having trouble getting to the root of your loved one’s emotions, encourage him or her to express their feelings through art, music or some other creative way. You could ask them to sing a song that matches how they’re feeling, or have him or her draw a picture of how they feel right now. By providing outlets that don’t rely on words, you’ll be better able to communicate effectively with your loved one.

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