4 Tips to Maintain a Friendship With a Person With Dementia

Data surrounding dementia are alarming. The shocking reality is that one person develops dementia every three seconds. There are over 55 million people around the globe currently living with dementia. That number is expected to reach 78 million by 2030 and 139 million by 2050.

Oddly, you may have a friend or family member who has dementia. If you do not at this time, the odds are that you almost certainly will at some point in the future.

If you do have a person in your life diagnosed with dementia, particularly someone who is now beyond the early stages of the disease, you may be wondering whether there are tactics you can employ to maintain a friendship with that individual. (Keep in mind that we also have friendships with family members.)

There are four strategies to consider when it comes to the goal of maintaining a meaningful friendship with a person with dementia:

  • Acknowledge the diagnosis
  • Make adjustments
  • Connect in person
  • Take advantage of a specialized journal

Acknowledge the Diagnosis

There is a significant amount of misconception surrounding what people diagnosed with dementia desire when it comes to those in their lives. A primary misconception is that people with dementia do not want others around them to mention the disease. The prevalent misconception is that people with dementia want those in their lives to pretend that the condition doesn’t exist.

Most people with dementia would rather have friends and family members ask questions. They prefer these people around them, ignoring the fact that a dementia diagnosis has been made. They prefer it to people making assumptions about what people with dementia want or how they feel. Discussing a dementia diagnosis openly can be more comfortable for everyone. Share your feelings with your friend and acknowledge your discomfort or confusion. The person with dementia will let you know what they need from you.

Make Adjustments

Unfortunately, when a friend or family member is diagnosed with dementia (particularly as the disease advances), those in that individual’s circle of friends and family practice avoidance. They think they don’t know how to respond to a loved one with advanced dementia.

In the final analysis, avoidance is not a good response to a person with dementia. There are ways in which you can carry on effectively an existing relationship with an individual who ends up diagnosed with dementia. That is found in making adjustments and adapting to the situation – adaption to the “new norm.”

For example, a person living with dementia may need you to speak slower, provide more detailed explanations, or occasionally repeat what you said. A person with dementia may have a better experience in a quiet restaurant. An individual with dementia might prefer to watch a movie at home rather than in a theater.

As stated before, don’t let a diagnosis of dementia be a reason for avoiding a person who has been a part of your life. You can do many of the activities you’ve enjoyed doing together. You may have to get creative in how you undertake these activities going forward in the future. It is important to be open to adjusting your normal shared activities. In the end, most of these activities can be modified to make your loved one with a dementia diagnosis feel more comfortable.

Connect in Person

A common reality of dementia is that many people with this disease find it easier to connect with others in person and communicate face-to-face. The fact is that having face-to-face conversations helps a person with dementia have a greater understanding of what is being said. In addition, as dementia advances, a face-to-face conversation results in an individual with the disease having a greater level of recognition. If you cannot have an in-person connection with an individual with dementia, consider taking advantage of Zoom, Facetime, or Skype.

This technology can also be preferable for larger numbers of people who want to come together simultaneously to visit a person with dementia. There is one exception to the idea of face-to-face connections being preferable. There are instances in which an individual with dementia can be overwhelmed by having to be with multiple people in-person at the same time.

Take Advantage of a Specialized Journal

There are now specialized journals available to people with dementia. These journals include prompts that aid an individual with dementia in setting forth his or her needs and preferences that involve communication and getting together with others. An example of such a journal is An Inspired Life. The preface to An Inspired Life explains the function and benefit of these specialized journals for individuals with a dementia diagnosis:

Use this journal to record and share your thoughts and hopes with your (family, friends, and) care partners. Your care partners are the ones who will partner with you on the journey with your diagnosis … This journal is designed to help you help them as the disease progresses. This journal also provides an opportunity to have open and honest conversations about dementia and what to expect from those close to you. While you may not always be able to predict what is around the next turn, understanding the progression of the disease will prepare you and your family for what’s next at each stage.

In conclusion, while relationships definitely change when a loved one develops dementia, meaningful relationships do not need to end. Instead, these relationships truly can adapt to ensure and even grow an existing connection between family members and friends as a loved one lives his or her life following a diagnosis of dementia. You can continue to be a meaningful part of that loved one’s life as you advance into the future.