Many of us underestimate the power of language in our daily lives. The way we approach a conversation and the words we use can produce very different results, depending on how the other person perceives them.

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This is true in all relationships, but it’s particularly significant when speaking with people who have cognitive impairment. Persons living with dementia can exhibit many of the same behaviors that we see in young children—such as mood swings, irrational behavior, forgetfulness, and problems with vocabulary. As a result, some care partners are tempted to talk to them as if they’re children.

It’s essential to speak to cognitively impaired adults as you would any other adult and always use positive language—words and phrases that empower people, treat them with dignity and respect them as individuals. 

One way to do this is always using the correct adult terminology. For example, don’t ask if someone needs to “go potty.” Instead, ask if they have to use the bathroom. Also, use the same tone you would with any adult. Like anyone else, people with dementia can feel devalued when others act in a “condescending or overprotective way,” states this study on Promoting Independence in Dementia (PRIDE).

Even as dementia progresses, each person living with the disease still has an ever-present desire to contribute and feel included. Honor their personhood by inviting them into the preparation process and offering them choices, such as “What color would you like?” Even the smallest of options, such as asking, “Would you like an orange or an apple?” can fulfill their craving to be both independent and a part of something.

Furthermore, with each activity you invite your participants to join, remember to focus on the project versus the outcome and use each opportunity to share, inform, and entertain. Of course, having a well-polished finished product to look back on is always exciting, but it’s the positive, engaging experience, itself, full of laughter and joy that will create a lasting impact!

Lastly, adopt a phrase (or more than one) you can use when introducing something new or transitioning from one activity to another. For example, you can say, “Something wonderful is about to happen! We are going to sing our favorite songs!” Contribute to their health and happiness by engaging people in a fun and positive interaction.

Don’t be shy about adding humor to the discussions, either! Humor has been shown to make adults with dementia feel connected and respected — two attributes equally important in ensuring a life well-lived. Then, showcase what your participants have accomplished by celebrating their work each week or month. You can do this by hosting an art gallery filled with legacy projects or a small boutique and inviting families to join in celebrating their loved one’s creativity!

EngAGE EnCOURAGE™ offers an easy-to-use e-learning platform, accessible 24 /7, designed for staff and group programs. Colorful, narrated videos for learning, laughing & creating, plus fitness & wellness videos provides a shared experience to learn, laugh & create!

EngAGE EnCOURAGE™ provides a quality curriculum for resident or member programming at assisted living communities, adult day clubs, and memory care providers. Reach us via email or toll-free by phone at (602) 418-5196.