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The value of the “pregnant pause” when talking to someone with memory loss

Post by:  Darra Wray, Founder – My Care Companions

Dementia robs a person of many things including the ability to process information quickly. But, as a society, we have come to value speed in all of our communications.  E-mail, instant messaging, and texting are examples of our new communication norm.  Unfortunately, with this need for speed expanding all around us, the desire to complete someone else’s sentences is ever threatening.

When someone with memory loss pauses mid-conversation, we have an almost uncontrollable need to finish their sentence for them and rush the conversation along.  But when we do this, we risk sending them a message that they are not good enough… not fast enough… inadequate.  We unintentionally are reinforcing their gradual withdrawal from conversation and the eventual “loss of voice” experienced by many dementia patients.

Now, don’t get me wrong…  there comes a time when a person with memory loss may need help with conversation.  I just want to encourage us all to make sure we are not rushing this process along.  I want us to remember to first give them the time they may need to complete their own thought.

Like many people my age, I have mild hearing loss.  While not enough to require hearing aids, it is a source of frustration to my teenage daughter when she mumbles something that I don’t hear.  I have taken to reminding her that I can’t change how well I can hear, but she CAN adjust how loudly and clearly she talks.  Similarly, in conversations with someone struggling with memory loss, we may not be able to change how fast they process information, but we can adjust our behavior to give them more time to do it.

So, the next time you are in a conversation with someone struggling with memory loss and they stop mid-conversation to remember something, let them take a “pregnant pause”.  No matter how awkward and unnatural it feels, give them an extra moment to think and to remember.  If it becomes clear they are not able to remember, gently assist them with a word or phrase that might allow them to finish their own thought rather than finish the sentence for them.

Patience is a virtue.  Hopefully a bit of extra time, the “pregnant pause”, will help preserve the voice of the person with memory loss and their active participation in the conversations of life for as long as possible.

Photo by Elena Koycheva on Unsplash

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