Communicating Through Dementia with SAFE


Caregiving for a family member with dementia can be a mind bending experience.

Making a connection through the dementia means letting go of our "reality" and meeting your parent where she is.  Dementia can take you on amazing journeys dementiainto a person's past. As a caregiver for a parent with dementia, you need new communication techniques.

The acronym SAFE is a reminder of what to do when communicating with your parent.

S Stay calm
Avoid correcting your parent
Focus on your parent
Tune into the emotion being shared

Here's an example of the SAFE dementia caregiving communication techniques in action. Your mother walks into the kitchen while you are making dinner and asks for your father who has been dead for five years.

I know from my caregiving experience that the first few times this happens you may be so shocked that you may say (somewhat sharply) "Mom, Dad's dead!"

Your mother's reaction lets you know that this was not the right answer.  By honoring your mother's feelings and entering her dementia reality, how might you have a different conversation with your parent?

Mom: "When is Bob getting home from work?"

You:  "I'm not sure Mom, is there something you need?"

(Look for the unmet need.)

Mom: "No, I just wondered where he is.  He should be home by now."

You: "It sounds like you miss him."

(Speak to the emotion under her question.)

Mom:  "Yes I do. When is he coming home?"

You: "I'm making tacos for dinner.  What's Bob's favorite food?"

(Reminisce with your mother about your father.)

Mom:  "Bob loves fried chicken."

You: "What's your favorite food, Mom?"

(You shift the conversation to another topic.)

Keep in mind that even when the communication is unclear, it has a purpose.  People with dementia need attention, respect and understanding when they communicate with you.

Caregiving for someone with dementia requires a lot of patience and creativity. People with dementia can get stuck on a particular subject.  Try different questions and suggest activities to see if you can shift to another subject

Have you had trouble communicating with your parent with dementia?  How do you cope?

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--Janice Wallace