Building Bridges

Communicate with Your Loved One

It’s tempting to label the words and actions of loved ones as “difficult behaviors.” Instead, view these things as “communication”—and try to identify which basic human need your loved one is trying to meet. Also, look to initiate communications of your own to help make positive connections.


Allow your loved one to hold a familiar item, one that’s similar to the item you’re using to provide care. This simple act can bridge the gap between feeling a loss of control and maintaining dignity:

  • When helping with grooming, hand your loved one a favorite brush or comb as you comb their hair
  • If your loved one requires your full assistance, when dining, still place a utensil in their hand as you assist them with eating


We may not have personally experienced all that a senior has, but we all share the same emotions. Tap into your own experiences to help acknowledge what your loved one is feeling:

  • Listen in a way that meets the human need for self expression, love, belonging and self worth
  • Connect with body language and tone of voice, not just words


By celebrating your loved one’s individuality, you preserve their dignity. Show how much you respect them by:

  • Using their preferred name or nickname
  • Making eye contact when communicating
  • Speaking with a warm tone of voice


You and your loved one can strengthen your social bonds to ease the caregiver relationship. Sharing memories helps them in a variety of other ways:

  • Reaffirming identity by connecting with their past
  • Using past coping mechanisms as ways they can handle difficulties in the present
  • Recalling pleasant experiences can bring joy and comfort in the moment

Creating Meaning and Purpose

As your loved one experiences memory loss and can no longer make decisions with confidence, they begin to depend on you more and more. However, dependency takes a toll on self esteem.

To balance this delicate situation, particularly during the early stages of memory loss, encourage your loved one to cultivate life skills. These are skills we all develop and use—things that provide a sense of purpose, accomplishment and individuality.

Identify Skills

What activities did your loved one once enjoy? Did they have hobbies or an occupational skill they can still employ? Life skills may include painting, sculpting, storytelling, gardening, caring for pets or simply handling household chores. Look for skills that tap into your loved one’s implicit or procedural memory. Once you find a life skill that your loved one treasured, encourage them to use it regularly.

Cultivate Through Application

Get your loved one involved in an interest group for seniors, or have them lead one of their own. Encourage them to use their life skills whenever possible—not only will it stimulate them mentally, but it will also give their days new purpose.

Sunrise Celebrates Meaning and Purpose

Sunrise Senior Living's Vice President of Memory Care Services, Rita Altman, explains "centering," an important technique to help caregivers focus and prepare themselves for stressful and difficult situations.

Connect at Mealtime

Mealtimes help caregivers connect with a loved one and nurture their spirit as well as their body. They also provide an opportunity to engage life skills and help them maintain a sense of security, purpose and meaning.

  • Allow for preferences. Offer your loved one a balanced meal, while providing their favorite foods as often as possible. Encourage them to help select food items, particularly if cooking was a life skill they enjoyed.
  • Keep it simple, yet familiar and dignified. Elaborate table settings can confuse a person with memory loss. Use contrasting colors, and encourage independence where possible.

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