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Kin Ministry

How to Communicate and Interact Effectively with Person Living with Dementia

In order to communicate and interact effectively with persons living with dementia, it is important for us to gain a deeper understanding and empathy of what dementia can do to a person.  Seeing it from the perspective of the person with the disease is powerful and helps us to understand a person’s actions/behaviors throughout the day. Watch the 1 hour long presentation of this topic by Michelle Kutner below:

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Conversation Starters

Asking a question is one of the easiest ways to start a conversation. According to an article by Showdowbox Xpress called Conversation Starters for Alzheimer’s and Dementia Patients one should:   “Start simple. A very basic conversation starter is, “Hello, how are you?” Try incorporating the person’s name into the greeting. “Good morning, Joan. How are you feeling?” This helps orient the person and gets his or her attention. When speaking – talk in a soft, friendly tone, use short, direct sentences, smile and make eye contact.” For others almost any generic question can serve as a catalyst to a conversation.

Here are some fun questions for starting a conversation with your Kin:

  • What is something that is popular now that annoys you?
  • What was your favorite vacation?
  • What were you really into as a kid?
  • Who in your life brings you the most joy?
  • Who was your best friend in elementary school?
  • What is your favorite season? Why?

Where and when was the most amazing sunset you have ever seen?

Your role as a BeFriender volunteer is to be a listening presence. Let the Kin take the conversation where they want it to go. Don’t worry about getting an answer to your question so much as using the question to get to know your Kin.

Mixed Up Understandings

Some of the delightful voices I get to listen to these days are the voices of my grandchildren who amuse our family with the things they say. Things like:

  • Two granddaughters, dressed in new dresses from Grammy, asked her, “Grammy, can you tell us apart?”
  • While playing Scrabble, a granddaughter asked, “Grammy, is IQ a word? I think it has something to do with being smart, but I’m not sure.”
  • When dropping off a grandson and picking up a granddaughter, he asked, “Grammy, are you trading me in for my sister?”
  • While singing an old children’s song, a grandson asked, “What’s a telephone wire?”
  • While cuddling her pet a granddaughter asked, “When dogs hear us, do they hear barking or English?”

Listening to them, my heart and life is filled with the love and joy of those relationships, even in the midst of “mixed up understandings.” As I pondered those listening opportunities I got to thinking that in many cases the “mixed up understandings” come because of their seeing and hearing the world from their own eyes and ears, from their own life’s perspective. And I realized that in a sense all of us do that when listening to others. We therefore need to be careful so that what we are hearing through our own eyes and ears does not get in the way of what the other is really saying. And we need to remember that at the heart of listening is the relationship that can bring joy and fulfillment to both the one being listened to and the one who is listening.

In Mark 10:46-52 we read of Jesus’ healing of blind Bartimaeus. As Bartimaeus is shouting “Jesus, Son of David, have mercy on me!” the crowd yells out, “Be quiet.” That reminds me there are still many who are crying out to hear and see and be touched by the love, grace and power of Christ. And how often our own needs, or own “blocks to listening,” can get in the way of our hearing of others, missing opportunities to bring them into the presence, power and peace of Christ, and missing out on those deeper, joy and love filled relationships.

What also amazes me about the story is that Jesus does not assume to know what Bartimaeus is wanting. After stopping and asking to have him brought to him, Jesus asks him, “What do you want me to do for you?”

He was willing to ask a question, which can be a helpful tool in our listening as long as we use it for our deeper listening to others and not just for us.

Gracious and loving God, who listens to our every word and even hears the murmurs of our spirits, may you make us as ready and loving to listen to others. Keep us aware of those blocks to listening that can get in the way of our listening to others so that we might truly hear others words and even the murmurs of their spirits. And in that listening may they and we experience together the joy-filled loving relationships which you intend for all people. In your name we pray. Amen.

Written by Bill Gran from The Good Samaritan Society


Happiest When in the Presence of Others

Last fall Trinity was approached through the SD ELCA Synod by Good Samaritan Society (GSS), to participate in a pilot program of their Kin Ministry. Almon, age 87 years young, immediately came to mind when seeking someone to try the Nucleus video phone connection because of his outgoing personality. We approached his daughter, Robin (a member of our congregation), about the idea and she was supportive to the point of excited. She also knew of two family members in particular he would enjoy being able to see when he talked with them – his sister Sharon with health concerns that prevented them from visiting in person very often, and a grandson who had recently returned from serving in the army.

I had very recently completed Befriender Ministry training (Christian based, active listening) when I was paired with Almon. He is a resident of a local assisted living center and we began meeting once a month. After the Nucleus was installed for Almon, we were connecting almost daily. It was immediately obvious to me that being able to see one another gave more meaning to the connection for both of us.

He would question my appearance, making sure I was ok, and I could do the same for him. Almon quickly came up with the fun idea to add video-sharing the latest picture, game, puzzle or a seasonal decoration his family had brought to his room. He especially enjoyed entertaining us both by showing off his new musical, mechanical Santa. As a new member of Almon’s care circle, being able to connect through the Nucleus so easily and frequently enabled Almon to better remember who I was and know that I was someone with whom he could safely share both good times and bad.

Almon is truly happiest when he is in the presence of other people and Kin Ministry’s Nucleus component offers him a way to fill in many of the lonelier times of his day.

To be expected in any pilot program, it took us a little while to work out some of the technical bugs, but the Nucleus itself is ‘push one button to reach me, push two buttons to reach a family member’. A time or two I have been able to witness how special it is to add video to his calls with his sister and we are about to add his grandson to his list of connections. Almon is truly happiest when he is in the presence of other people and Kin Ministry’s Nucleus component offers him a way to fill in many of the lonelier times of his day.

Written by Debby Larson at Trinity Lutheran Church in Yankton, SD