Interacting with Individuals Who Have Memory Loss

January 30, 2018

With our newly launched Memory Cafés we thought it would be a good opportunity to talk about memory loss and how EC Memory Loss.jpgto interact with individuals who live with it. We recently reached out to Jenny LaVoi, Director of Cognitive Care Program at Emerald Crest by Augustana Care, for her thoughts on how best to interact and communicate with individuals dealing with memory loss.

Memory loss is a symptom of dementia or Alzheimer’s disease. WebMD defines dementia as a progressive loss of memory and other aspects of thinking that are severe enough to interfere with the ability to function in daily activities. Alzheimer’s disease is the most common and familiar type of dementia. Early warning signs may include forgetting simple things such as names, important dates, and appointments, then move into more involved issues.

LaVoi thinks of it as a wheel of cognition which includes all of our cognitive skills, such as:

  • Problem solving
  • Communication
  • Sequencing
  • Frustration
  • Decision making
  • Attention span
  • Focus
  • Goal direction

When cognitive skills become diminished in an individual who suffers from dementia, confusion sets in, details are missed, and it may become difficult to problem solve and complete otherwise familiar tasks. As this happens, changes in mood and personality are noticeable as the individual may become anxious, irritable, suspicious and depressed.

At Emerald Crest by Augustana Care, everything we do is done with the purpose of helping your loved ones enjoy life to the fullest. Our resident coordinators work daily with individuals who have cognitive issues and offer specialized care for seniors with dementia-related conditions, including Alzheimer’s disease. The Emerald Crest coordinators strive to keep the resident’s interests and hobbies in mind and create purposeful activities for each of them. Those with early to mid-stage dementia enjoy reminiscing groups where they share stories of weddings, travel, or family history with each other.

Many activities are centered around music, exercise, movement or simple games such as BINGO. As Jenny says, the caring staff at Emerald Crest go to great lengths to learn “who was that person, what were their interests and how can we individualize their care?”

As Director of Cognitive Care Program, Jenny LaVoi shared an example of a resident who enjoys woodworking. This man would build wooden birdhouses using a kit, but as his dementia progressed the staff found a more suitable 2 or 3 step kit so he could continue enjoying his hobby. Eventually, that kit became too much for him also, so then he began sanding or painting blocks of wood.

The Emerald Crest by Augustana Care staff understands that everyone is different and will have their own needs and be at different stages of memory loss. When interacting with our residents, we are careful to not use elderspeak. Elderspeak is a specialized speech style used when addressing older adults. This includes speaking louder, slower, repeating words, and using a ‘baby talk’ style of voice which all translates to being demeaning to the elder person. The resident coordinators are aware of the needs of the elder and depending on the stage of dementia, work with each person using patience and simple instruction. An individual in middle stages of memory loss will do well with simple terms, and directions that are concrete and step-by-step. As Jenny LaVoi says “Simple is better. Simple is more.”

As a person’s dementia progresses, much of their communication abilities are lost, so focusing on non-verbal commands is successful. Eye contact, gentle touch ques, head nods and smiles are all positive non-verbal communication commands that work well with a person in late stages of dementia. When asking questions, keep them simple and close-ended. For example, asking someone with mid-late stage dementia what they want for breakfast is too broad. Consider asking Would you like eggs or pancakes? By speaking slowly, giving simple choices instead of asking an open-ended question, and allowing time to answer will help the individual process the situation and prevent frustration.

The Emerald Crest by Augustana Care model of care was developed based on experience and understanding that people with memory challenges fare better in smaller, home-like residences where their dignity, privacy, safety and quality of life can be preserved. We pride ourselves in the relationships we build every day with our residents, their families and within the community. At each of our Emerald Crest by Augustana Care communities, seniors will find thoughtful memory care in an assisted living setting where each individual’s personal preferences are valued. Our assisted living services help residents with tasks like dressing or showing and are tailored to their needs. Through specialized training and individual senior care plans, we partner with residents to maximize their abilities and encourage independence, enjoyment and opportunities for success. We encourage you to visit Emerald Crest by Augustana Care so you experience life in our community firsthand. Call us today at 952-908-2215.

Jenny LaVoi is an occupational therapist who provides direct care to residents at Emerald Crest by Augustana Care. EC Jenny LaVoi.jpgJenny works as an occupational therapist at the Shakopee community and is the director of cognitive care. As people with dementia-related conditions are often overlooked, being able to make a difference in their lives and how the community perceives them continues to drive her work.

Schedule a tour

Contact us


From day one our experience with everyone at Emerald Crest was beyond outstanding!   WE are so appreciative of the love and care we received from all.

— Julie, daughter of Emerald Crest resident