Communicating with someone who is experiencing dementia symptoms comes with some big challenges because of the hurdles they experience while processing information. But, what about when that information could potentially be lifesaving and must be conveyed? This is a scenario that many caregivers are experiencing right now due to the pandemic when information is changing quickly.
I have a few strategies that can be used for not only sharing COVID-19 guidelines and updates, but any news that could be potentially anxiety-inducing.
- Provide just enough information: Less is always more when it comes to the way you communicate news to avoid extra anxiety. Avoid providing too much information that could cause extra alarm. This means finding a delicate balance between getting enough information across so it makes sense and being mindful to not cause overstimulation because they are attempting to process it.
- Remember that it is about how they feel: Just as a flight attendant that appears nervous may make their passengers panic, you could unintentionally pass along the fear that you’re feeling inside. Even if you’re feeling upset about the information you’re sharing, attempt to deliver it calmly and monitor how it’s being received by them in case you need to take a step back.
- Limit news and media exposure: Don’t forget that media outlets aren’t practicing dementia awareness when reporting. Although the news can be helpful by keeping everyone informed, reporters often deliver headlines with an intensity that can create unnecessary worry. Reframe news that you consume with positive action statements. For example, say “I know this is a scary time, but I’m so glad we can get through this together.”
- Watch for reassurance seeking: It’s very normal for the person you’re caring for to ask questions about the information they are trying to process. However, repeatedly asking the same questions is an indicator that there is some underlying anxiety going on. Instead of repeatedly responding with the same answers, talk to the feeling. If they ask you why they can’t go to their favorite lunch spot, don’t attempt to explain why it’s closed; instead, acknowledge that you miss having lunch with them and suggest having their favorite meal together at home.
In short, remember these concepts when sharing important information: short and sweet, less is best, fewer words and more action. The more you do the thinking for people with dementia, using the strategies discussed above, the kinder and more supportive you become in their eyes. This results in more moments of joy and peace between you.
For the most current information about COVID-19, visit the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC).