I have never been much of a conversationalist, but now that my mom has dementia, I find I am at a loss. I would like to keep pleasant conversation going, but often, I run out of things to say - especially when the conversation is so one-sided. I would appreciate if you could give me some conversation topics (we talk about the past a lot), and ways to keep it going. Marion S., Miami, FL

I know all too well how challenging it can be to keep the conversation going with someone who is cognitively impaired. I remember suggesting to my father that instead of watching television together, we just talk. His response? “Great, you go first.”

I should have taken the wise advice of Rebecca Mandler, a Licensed Clinical Social Worker in South Miami:

“Conversing isn’t always necessary, silence is often okay as well,” she said. “Engaging in a joint activity such as gardening, or pet care, (even if one is more of a spectator) is beneficial and ongoing commentary regarding the activity is useful. Also, reading aloud, from a newspaper, or book, or just listening to music can be enjoyable for both of you.”

I can tell you first hand that sharing memories over family photos and even school yearbooks can be fun as well. I remember having some good laughs with my father as he told stories prompted by pictures in his own high school yearbook. And we chuckled at the fashions and hairstyles in my yearbooks from the 70s. Those times together have turned out to be my favorite memories of his last years.

As we approach the holidays and cold winter days, consider indoor projects with your mother that will make new memories such as scrapbooking, trying a new recipe, or planting an indoor herb garden. Better yet, get tickets to an afternoon concert or "classic" movie that she'll enjoy; or treat her to afternoon tea at a nice hotel. Bundle up and make it an adventure together.

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Category: Caregiving, Family Relationships, Memory Disorders/Dementia/Alzheimer's Disease