For many, engaging socially with a friend or loved one with dementia is not easy, and as you might expect there are ways to make it less complicated, for everyone. I’m going to be providing you with a list of questions you can ask your loved one in person or over the phone that will make it easy for them to interact with adults or children. Why? Because the questions are related to their long-term memory, which hopefully hasn’t been impacted yet by the slow progression of the disease.

There are some basics we all need to keep in mind when asking questions of our loved ones with dementia. We don’t want to confuse them with questions that require a complicated answer. As our mission is to keep them in a happy place, we want to be sure that we’re not asking questions that will make them sad or angry. And finally, pay attention to your tone of voice and your body language, as they will be able to determine if you’re genuinely interested or just going through the motions.

If you think about it, we could come up with a number of topics to engage with your loved one, but here are just a few that should get you started.

Where did you play as a child? Did you have any favorite games?

Tell me about your first car.

Was your mother a good cook? What were your favorite dishes?

Did you play any sports? Do you have a favorite team?

Tell me about your first job.

Tell me about your first boss.

Did you have any pets as a child?

What’s your favorite animal?

Who is your favorite actor?

What kind of movies or TV shows do you like? Westerns? Mysteries?

Have you done much traveling in your life?

Where’s your favorite place?

How did you meet … Dad, Grandma, etc?

Well that should keep you busy. Remember that we never want to talk to them in lists, so don’t start firing questions at them or you could end up confusing and, worse, annoying them. Clearly some questions will require short answers, while others will have you on your way to a long and often very revealing conversation. A few years ago when I conducted a “Reminiscing Social” with a group of gentlemen in my assisted-living community, I learned a great deal. One answered the question about his first boss by saying he was an “SOB.” Another referred to his first boss as a “racist.” And worse yet, we also learned that one of the gentlemen in the group was indeed a racist. That started a very lively conversation.

We’re dealing with a progressive disease, so depending upon where they are in the illness, your ability to have meaningful verbal interaction with them will decline. Eventually their long-term memory is impacted as well as their ability to find words and express themselves. The good news is that, hopefully, you have found out things about them that will help you when you need to get them to that Happy Place I write about so often. If you learned they loved “I Love Lucy” or “The Honeymooners,” you can actually purchase those shows on video for them to watch when you need to redirect them or you just want to make it part of your daily routine. If it’s a specific artist like Frank Sinatra or Perry Como they have fond memories of, then it’s easy to access their music for them in todays high-tech world.

When having these discussions, avoid asking them “You remember don’t you?” Their short-term memory is compromised, so you’ll be able to revisit those favorite stories again and again. You may have heard them 10 times, but each time they’re telling it to you, it’s the first time.

Questions? Email me at repe@careforcaregivers.org. Join the Journey.

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