Families have long cherished love letters, notes to faraway college students, newsy letters from home to service men and women. As much as our electronic age has taken over, a written note or letter is a special keepsake. Written expression is a lasting imprint of our feelings, ideas, and an insight into what we are about as part of friendships and families.
However, writing skills and other communication skills in dementia patients can suffer. The disease involves a progressive deterioration of cognitive functions, and attacks the memory center of the brain before affecting language, judgement, vision, and movement. Oral communication becomes difficult. As the memory fails, word-finding and fluent speech decrease. Written expression is also affected.
During the spring season, many of us are sending graduation congratulations, best wishes for weddings and christenings, or postcards from a family vacation. However, this can be extremely difficult for our loved ones with dementia. While they may wish to participate in these “normal” activities, they require help from family, friends, and caretakers. Grandchildren can also help.
Ways to Help Your Loved Ones with Written Social Interaction:
- Discuss thoughts, ideas, and feelings that can be written down. Start simple. Be patient and allow time for the dementia patient to sort through his or her thoughts and find the right words.
- Use skillful questions to draw out your loved one. Ask about birthdays, anniversaries, hobbies, social functions, holidays, family members, close friends, favorite TV programs, jokes, pets, church activities, favorite games or sports, and stories about the past.
- Dignify your loved one by helping him or her to write as much as possible. If a senior is unable to write, ask permission to write for him or her. Patience, time, and prompted hints where needed may help recall ideas, thoughts, and feelings. Be positive in your expressions, words, and body language. Help your loved one sign his or her name if needed.
- Use a computer, iPad, or notebook to write e-mails, letters, and cards. Remember that larger keys are easier for elderly arthritic fingers and hands to use.
- Keep a log of cherished friends and family your loved one has written to so that as time passes it will be easier to keep the written dialogue going. These will be the memories and insights into relationships your loved one can view again and again.
- Children and grandchildren can draw pictures on and decorate card stock, printer paper, manila paper, or construction paper. These pictures can then be used as cards.
Helping our loved ones with dementia be successful helps them build self esteem, maintain dignity, exercise skills, and prolong identity. While it may be challenging to help them write to cherished family and friends, it is well worth the effort!