Approaching Someone with Alzheimer’s/Dementia

The key thing to remember about working with dementia patients is:  “Meet Me Where I Am.”

If we see someone in a wheelchair, we do not expect them to climb a ladder.  Dementia, especially in its early stages, is not obvious.  Proper dementia care must meet patients “where they are”.  In other words, we must adjust expectations and understand that dementia sufferers are doing the best they can with the capabilities they have.  It’s equally important to realize that dementia patients may be aware of their reduced cognitive skills and that this can be a terribly disquieting experience for them.

When you approach someone with Alzheimer’s or dementia, meet them on their terms.  Move and speak slowly.  Keep actions and dialogue simple.

  • Always announce yourself.  Knock or say hello in a gentle voice, but loud enough to be noticed.  Try to establish eye contact.
  • Greet the person by name, if possible.  Never underestimate the power of a smile.
  • Extend your hand gently as though you were going to shake their hand.  If they accept your handshake, slide your hand under theirs into the hand-under-hand hold.
  • Reposition your body from the front to their side.
  • Try to be at their level.  Many patients are sitting and their faces are lower than yours.  Squat or drop to one knee so your eyes are at the same level.
  • Always be friendly.  Make any positive comment:  “You look nice today.”  “I like your dress.”  “Those pictures of your grandkids are great.”
  • Always keep your conversation simple, short and friendly.  Allow the patient time to respond as best they can.