February 23, 2021 by jas
My Love has declined quite a bit in the last two years, spanning the period between stage six and stage seven on the Alzheimer’s spectrum, as his doctor defines it. My Love’s communications skills, listening and speaking, have been vanishing more and more daily. As a result, talking between us has all but vanished, too, and these days we sit many hours in silence.
Well, then you can imagine there is nothing more exciting for me than to be thinking I am facing another afternoon of no conversation, when all of a sudden some questions I ask appear to be a trigger and My Love begins to ‘rattle off’ in attempted conversation. I cannot always understand his syllables of nonsense , but he is making an attempt at communication!
I glance at my list of suggested questions to grab some ‘word’ ideas in case I happen to understand any word he is saying. If I would be so fortunate, I might be able to elicit more in that memory thread by asking a related question, hoping to get a response. I do get a big smile when he recognizes that I understand the words he just spoke…which I am not always able to do…sadly.
Many days I end up talking to myself. After all, I listen, and then respond. Meanwhile, My Love many times is watching an old TV program because he has resisted doing anything at all with me. I am used to it now. He used to like to talk, a few years ago he could be quite animated when telling stories. When his attention span was greater, we used to draw together, or paint, or look at pictures. Sadly, those interests are mostly gone… but how much fun it is when there is a wee glimpse of ‘what used to be’ that comes through for a few moments of conversation in a day. Happiness!
This list of questions were created to have ready ‘word triggers’ for visitors or for me when talking with My Love, or if I was at a loss for words when he lost understanding of my words or for finding his own. It happened!
Question for discussion are usually better if they require “yes” or “no” answer so there is not so much information for the loved one to have to sort through to answer. If they do not answer the question as you ask, it does not matter if they ramble on about something else…let their brain work, let them tell stories as they wish, true or not. Play along with them. Otherwise, questions can sound like a “test” which puts most people off and takes away any fun in the conversation.
Sit in a quiet place where interruptions and other distractions can be limited and allow relaxation. Ask a question. Let them think about it and then answer. I only help him find an answer when I am trying to get a specific answer. (Did you find your shoes? Was it cold outside?) Otherwise, we are just two people together talking the ‘words that come out’ and the topic probably does not matter. Frustration comes when the loved one feels he is failing. Just move to a new question to distract if the original one fell flat. SMILE. Keep them feeling relaxed.
They may need you to mention an example to focus their thinking. or they may need help with answers…ask them if they want help. There may come a time when many of the answers will have been forgotten. Certain memories disappear earlier than others. That is part of the disease. Just do what comes naturally, with compassion with your loved one.
Generate rattle-on conversations
Questions related to family, school, people, hobbies or music they liked that might bring good memories.
- I was born in ____ Where were you born?
- Did you like cake for your birthday?
- Did you play in the year when you were a boy?
- What was your favorite thing about your house?
- Did you play outdoors? What did you do? Who with?
- Have you ever seen a tree house? Or been in one? built one?
- Tell me about a dog or cat? Color? Name? Type?
- Tell me about your brother (sister).
- What did you do with your friends?
- What were the names of your parents? What did they do?
- Did you ever go to summer camp? What did you like best there?
- Did you ever have a newspaper route? Did you walk or ride your bike? Or drive?
- Where is your favorite place you would like to go to?
- Did you visit your grandparents? Did they live nearby or in another town?
- What was your favorite meal with your family?
- Do you like to cook meals? What did you used to cook?
- What kind of car was your first car?
- Did your car ever break down?
- What sports did you like best in school?
- Where did ride a bike?
- What was your favourite movie? Do you recall the story? The stars?
- What did you do in summer? Games? Swim? Hike? Swim? Boat?
- What did you do in winter?
- What happened when you went to a farm?
- Did you ever go shopping for clothes? For food? For cars? For school supplies?
- Tell me about a vacation or trip you went on?
- Tell me about flying in an airplane.
- Tell me about your travels…where did go? What did see?
- What did you like about school? Subject? Teacher? Recess?
- What was your first job? What did you do?
- You like to watch outside a window…what do you like to watch? People? Trucks? Cars? Flowers grow? Snow or rain fall? Fog? Trees grow? Sky colours? Clouds?
- Did you ever take a girl/boy to the prom? Did you get dressed up?
- Were you ever in the military? Did you know soldiers in the military?
- What kind of music do you like? Did you like country? Folk? Classical? Piano? Singing?
- What was your favourite dance music?
- What was your favourite things about watch a parade? Did you march in a parade?
- What chores did you do at home? Take out the trash? Vacuum? Dust? Mow the lawn? Wash the car? Wash the tub?
- Did you ever want to be a fireman or policeman when you grew up? What did you want to be?
- What makes you happy? When are you happiest now?
- Did you ever swallow a goldfish or dance in a marathon?
- What was your first job where you went to work?
- What did you do after school? Play? Work?
- Did you ever climb a tree? Did you ever fall out of a tree? Did you ever sleep in a tree?
- Did you ever sew something? With a machine? By hand?
- Did you have a favorite toy when a child?
- Did you have a favourite story book? Did you read it to yourself?
- Did you ever grow a garden? Flowers or food?
- Did you ever drive or ride on a tractor or a trailer pulled by a tractor?
- Did you ever go to a farm to see animals?
- Did you walk a dog or ride a horse?
- Do you like to walk? Where did you walk?
- Did ever go on an sleepover at a friend’s house?
- Did you ever go camping by a lake? In the mountains? In the backyard?
- Have you done exercises? What did you like?
- Tell me how you________________ (did something they enjoyed-ie: sewing, painting, driving, swimming)
You can create your personal list. You will probably never use this many, but having them ready helped me.
Conversation Starters (c) 2021 Judith Allen Shone
Read the story of a spouse caregiver on her journey with her loved one
from diagnosis through the later stages of a Alzheimers diagnosis.