Many of the following strategies will apply to any programs you present, but become even more effective when working with participants with dementia. These strategies will address changes in abilities related to attention, cognition, and perception.
To begin a program or a conversation, be sure you have the participants’ attention. Stand so that they see you and do not begin speaking until you have their attention. Make eye contact when you can with everyone in the group to encourage a feeling of inclusion. Remember to stand facing your group with the object for discussion beside or near you so that the participants’ attention is not divided between you speaking and the object they are looking at. Point at the object, and after introducing it to the group, pause for a moment to give everyone a chance to look and think.
- When asking questions, say the person’s name first, and make eye contact so you have their attention
- Be patient, show that you are interested and provide positive and encouraging feedback
- Use non-verbal cues – your facial expression and body language will convey a lot, use gestures to emphasize or further explain what you are saying; model non-verbal responses like thumbs up and down, hands up, numbers
- Explain what you are going to do before you do it, and repeat in small steps as needed
- When speaking, use an adult tone and adult vocabulary so that you do not sound condescending or patronizing. While your participants may have some changes in their cognition, they are adults.
- Speak clearly, and at a slightly slower pace to allow for the extra processing time that may be needed. Use a normal volume level.
- Avoid phrases like ‘can you’ – this can make participants feel less confident if they cannot do something. Instead use terms like ‘try’, or simply direct instructions like ‘draw a circle’ or ‘pick up your brush’
- Avoid asking if a participant ‘remembers’ – again, this can make participants less confident if they cannot remember. Instead of, “Remember when we saw this last week?” or “Remember when we sculpted last week?”, use direct statements. For example, “Here is a portrait that we viewed last week.” or “I enjoyed doing sculpture with you last week.”