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The Power of Compliments in Dementia Care

Posted on: Feb 10, 2021

The famed poet Maya Angelou once wrote that “people will forget what you said, people will forget what you did but people will never forget how you made them feel.”

These words were not written about dementia care, but they have been embraced by the associates of Christian Horizons as foundational words for our new Pathway Memory Support program.

Consider the experience and impact of dementia. The person gradually loses cognitive skills. He or she may have to give up a beloved job, move out of his or her home, give up driving, and lose control of his or her finances. The person living with dementia loses a choice and control over his or her life. The result can be a life full of anxiety, sadness, worry and frustration.

How do we make things better? The answer lies in our relationship to the person with dementia and efforts to creative a therapeutic environment—defined as an environment that is healing. A day filled with meaningful activity, music, and reassuring words can help the person feel safe, valued, productive and loved.

As part of this therapeutic environment, family and professional care partners should empathize with the feelings of loss that the person with dementia experiences. When problems happen, know it’s the disease not the person.

And a simple technique, that just takes a minute and is free of charge, can make all the difference. Offer a heart-felt compliment.

Dad, you won the teacher of the year three times in your city. You are remarkable.

Mom, you make the best apple pie in the world. You are an amazing chef.

Beth, you are such a caring person. I know why everyone said that you are the most talented and loving nurse.

A compliment, grounded in your knowledge of the person’s life story and achievements, almost always brings a smile. In the words of Maya Angelou, you are sharing the emotion of kindness and affection – emotions the person will understand even if language sometimes falls short.

If you are a family or a professional care partner, offer lots of compliments. You will be amazed at their power to change the person’s mood and to reduce dementia related behavior.

And there is one more plus to offering a compliment – you may get one in return. 

David Troxel, MPH, co-author of The Best Friends Approach to Dementia Care and Consultant to Christian Horizons Pathway Memory Support Program

Find a Dementia Friendly location near you.