What is it like to engage in conversation with a parent with dementia? I’ve been learning the language of love with my 85-year-old mother who was diagnosed with early dementia about 2 months after she fell on her back on her concrete driveway. Up to the time she fell, which was about 2 ½ years ago, my mother was highly functioning and extremely active, e-mailing well past midnight. We spoke once or twice a week.

After the fall (sounds Biblical doesn’t it?), which was attributed to simply tripping, not to a TIA or a stroke, my mother was no longer able to perform daily tasks independently. She did not know what day of the week it was or how to count backward from 100 by 3s—standard questions doctors ask to assess brain functioning. We now speak once a day.

As a curious person I usually enter conversations wanting to know about the other person: Who they are, what they think, how they approach situations. As a coach my form of engagement with clients is asking questions. I learn so much about people using questions as the doorway. For the first several months after my mom’s diagnosis I struggled with how to best engage in conversations with her. Our once or twice weekly calls centered on each of our respective activities. Now my mom couldn’t remember what she ate or if she ate. I needed to learn a different way to connect.

I made the following changes:

Created ritual

Call-at approximately the same time each day

Offer her the same blessing during each call—She offers me one in response

Ask questions that are embedded in statements to which she responds

Validate whatever she says, responding with “Yes” or “That’s OK”

Our conversations are short, lively, funny and full of love.

Author's Bio: 

As the founder and managing principal of Rightline, a company that provides coaching and consulting services, Renée Barnow is sought out for her multi-faceted roles as a Creative Enthusiasm Offerer (CEO), the Clarity Fun Organizer (CFO), and the Catalytic Inspiration Optimizer (CIO).

With a background in communication, Renée's work has evolved from designing and developing users’ manuals, training
materials, and corporate communication vehicles to organizational communication associated with large scale leadership and technology change to coaching, which she loves and considers the highest and most dynamic form of communication.

Renée has enjoyed a life-long fascination with language, especially words, and how they promote or hinder connections.
She recently published Action Based Communication: Changing Experience through Language.

Learn more at http://right-line.com