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Correcting Words

Today’s insight discusses correcting words. When a loved one with dementia says a “word” you don’t recognize, be careful not to make these common mistakes. Take our simple steps to eliminate negative feelings.

Transcription of Video:

I’m Deb Nygaard from Arthur’s Residential Care with today’s Insights from Arthur’s. Today I want to talk about your expression and correcting your loved one’s words.

This is about when a loved one with cognitive decline comes to you and says something that is nonsensical. Maybe she uses a made-up word like, for example, “I need a zipta.” If your facial expression reflects a furrowed brow, or you cross your arms over your chest, or put your hands on your hips, or you give a look over the top of your glasses, what you are communicating to your loved one is, “You’re an idiot!” They, in turn, are going to respond to you with the same intensity that they just perceived. So you are either going to get tears because they don’t know why you are so angry with them, or you’re going to get anger. They are going to give back to you the same intensity of feeling that they have perceived because you have just called them an idiot.

What you want to do instead is to keep your expression neutral to positive and repeat what they just said in the form of a question. So if they tell you, “I need a zipta.” You say, “You need a zipta?” Keeping your face pleasant, you simply make an inquiry. And then your loved one can say, “I need a zipta.”

The next thing you can say is, “Show me what it looks like.” This is a very powerful line. Say it with me: “Show me what it looks like.” Then your loved one will have the opportunity to mime what they need when they can’t come up with the actual noun to explain what it is. Once they have shown you, you can better understand what exactly they are talking about that they need.

Avoid correcting their words such as by changing “zipta” into the correct word. You can say, “Oh, I see you do need a zipta. I know where we can go get one.” You don’t have to say, “Oh, a sweater” (while rolling your eyes) because then again you are communicating condescension, and that is going to be noted and it will likely be offensive.

I’m Deb Nygaard with Insights from Arthur’s.

Contact Deb Nygaard
Director of Development
Arthur’s Residential Care: 651-429-4798