As time goes on, many of us see it become more complicated for our loved ones with Alzheimer's or dementia to make conversation with others. I noticed this long ago when my grandma would often echo the last word or a specific word or phrase someone said, perhaps to make it easier to participate in a conversation.
How well she can engage in discussions with others often varies daily or hour by hour. Occasionally this leads to misinterpreting how things are going in a conversation, such as feeling as if others aren't talking to her at dinner.
We wonder if this is indeed the case: if she's struggling to maintain her side of the conversation, if the other person she's seated with may have similar challenges. Or if truly these struggles are making it difficult for others to start or maintain a conversation even if they try.
It can be challenging not just to do the bulk of the talking with a person with Alzheimer's, at least for me, but also not to trip on "conversational landmines." We often don't know where these landmines are hidden - a comment made fine the day before may cause the person to spiral another day.
For example, when my grandma asks to be taken home, we often try to ground her with the things around her, reminding her where she is - that she is home.
However, sometimes picking the wrong grounding object will set us off on another spiral. "I don't know whose that is, it just showed up here. It's not mine. Mine looks like..." And then proceeds to describe a very, very old version of the item that has not actually existed in her environment for decades.
Conversation and grounding: With photos!
We've often found pictures are an excellent way to do this. When I started writing this, the issue of recognizing people had not set in yet, and even now, she still remembers us on most days.
If she is misplaced, and conveniently her room has her couch and chair and, yes, pictures of all the people she knows in it, well, it's a little easier to convince her they must be hers and she is in the right place. Especially when she is in the pictures herself.
Photos and short videos are also good conversation aides, too. Instagram reels of her great-granddaughter or the family dogs or any dogs being silly rarely fail to pull her out of whatever spiral she may be in or approaching with a good, positive distraction!
I know these strategies may not work forever, but they are good tools for the toolbox while they last.
Keeping photos in your camera roll on your phone can also help you to spark conversations or remember things to show your loved one.
I often find myself flipping through my photos to something I can show my grandma. And, of course, just like silly, uplifting stories or other things that interest your loved one, share 'em more than once.
"I can't remember if I told you..."
"...Well, we know my memory doesn't work great. Tell me again."
Do photos help you bring your loved one with Alzheimer's back to calm? Or help you encourage re-engaging in conversation? I'd love to read your strategies!
Which, if any, of the following most often trigger agitation in your loved one living with Alzheimer's disease?