Tips for Communicating with Elders

Leah Health Guide
  • Ever heard of K.I.S.S?   Its usual denotation means “Keep It Simple, Stupid” and has a derogatory connotation.  I would like to change its meaning (and connotation!) for caregivers who help those of us who have some form of dementia.  I want K.I.S.S. to mean “Keep It Specifically Simple”.  Let me explain what I mean and why…


    My husband and I were doing some last minute shopping at the grocery store one evening.  We decided, in the best interest of time, to split up and each go in certain directions for specific items.  I was headed for the vegetable aisle, he for the coffee—opposite ends of the store.  His last words to me were “I’ll meet you in the middle” and waved his arm.  A good ten minutes later, I was still wandering up and down looking between the rows for him.  I had gone to the vegetable aisle and walked to the back of the store.  His direction to meet in the middle was taken quite literally…I continued to look for him in the very MIDDLE of the store—the MIDDLE of the MIDDLE aisle—the center of the store!  (After all, I told my self, “middle” means CENTER so I’ll look there.)  Almost ten minutes went by, and I figured somehow I was wrong but had no way to “fix” it.   I decided we couldn’t be lost from one another forever, so I ventured forth to do more shopping.  Once I got to the front of the store, I saw him standing in the open area before checkout, turning every which way, looking for me…

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    Now, his directions were not of the K.I.S.S kind…well, they WERE of the Keep It Simple rule but not of my newly constructed Keep It Specifically Simple idea.  Bill’s stating to meet in the middle and waving his arm toward the front of the store was not specific enough.  He needed to say fully that we would meet in the front area before the checkout—simple enough, specific enough.  And then, he needed to take the time to check for my comprehension of the direction.  I needed to repeat it to him, in my own words if need be.  This was not the first miscommunication we’d had; it happens every day.  We laugh when it happens, and he says he’s being too “atlantic”; he needs to be more “pacific”!  That’s his way of diffusing the situation and making me more at ease.


    It is so very important that caregivers take the time to be specific in their speech.  Those of us with a form of dementia are often very literate listeners.  We often do not catch the nuances of language anymore—no matter how smart we used to be or what big jobs we once held.  Life is different for us now.  That doesn’t mean it’s a bad different—it’s just not the same.  So caregivers need to know that sometimes we may not understand what we hear in a commercial; they may need to explain what happened in that movie we are watching or why someone acted the way they did.  It doesn’t mean we’ve become stupid, nor are we less than we ever were.  We’re just different.


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    And, personally speaking, I think I’m better now than I ever was—only in a different way!




Published On: January 16, 2009