Given the symptoms of dementia, it can be difficult for a dementia sufferer to socialize. When he does go out with others, he can struggle while having a conversation. A dementia sufferer (DS) forgets names and words in almost every conversation and he frequently apologizes for his shortcomings. More often than not, he clams up and withdraws. Often, in sympathy real or feigned, the person he is talking to says, “Oh don’t worry about it. I forget things all the time. Everyone does.”
Yes, it is true that everyone does forget things; however, it is different with a person who has dementia. The ‘forgetting’ of a DS is a symptom of a disease that affects their life mentally, emotionally, and physically. Forgetting words is only one aspect of the disease that affects them. Ironically, sympathy leads them astray.
Sympathetic words can tell a dementia sufferer that he is normal. A DS is not normal, he is ill. When he hears from others, however well-meaning, that ‘everyone does it’, he can become angry with his caregivers or medical personnel when he is told that he does indeed have an illness. While most people don’t want to hurt the feelings of others, they still should watch their words and not just toss out a verbal panacea.
Sympathize with a DS as if he has diabetes or a heart condition – other serious chronic illnesses. Don’t mislead him by saying “Oh, I forget everything, too”. (Unless, you too have dementia, then you shouldn’t have trouble finding common conversational ground.) Tell him that you are sorry he is having trouble. Be patient and don’t ‘fill in the blank’ unless he asks you to. Tell him to take care of himself. Ask him what helps. Listen. Don’t dismiss him and walk away. Don’t tell him to ‘get better’.