Recording and preserving the life stories, lessons, and memories of our loved ones is what got us started. Safeguarding your family’s legacy is important, but especially so if your loved one’s have started showing signs of dementia. September marks the 8th Annual World Alzheimer’s Month and to help raise awareness, this post will be centered around tips for interviewing someone with Dementia. Whether you’re a family member recording a relative’s stories or a caregiver working with residents, use some of these tips to help facilitate your interviews.
Your body language and even just the way you carry yourself can have substantial impacts on how well your interview goes. The way you look, sit, smile, use hand gestures and a whole lot more can either help your interviewee feel more comfortable, or can put them on edge, depending on what these subtle cues tell them. Consider these tips when you’re interviewing someone with a form of Dementia:
-Sit, don’t stand: not only can sitting help you get a little closer to whomever you’re interviewing, it’s also a lot less confrontational.
-Keep your posture open: facing someone, chest forward, and no crossed arms or legs can convey your comfort and being at ease.
-maintain eye contact: eye contact (without staring) is one of the best ways to let anyone know you’re invested in the conversation.
-Facial expressions: showing emotion to someone you’re talking with can help them feel like you're listening to the actual content of their answers and not just listening to them talking.
The overall shape and makeup of your questions can either make or break your interview with someone in memory care. Dementia physically alters the brain and affects areas dealing with new information. With this in mind, it’s best to keep questions or statements as concise as you can. In addition to keeping questions short and to the point, try to avoid multifaceted questions or questions that require too much context.
For example, instead of saying “I heard that your daughter likes painting and that you taught her how to do that when she was younger. Can you tell me about your daughter and some of her paintings?” break those questions into two separate topics: “Can you tell me about your daughter?” and “Can you tell me how your daughter learned to paint?”.
When conducting any interview, if you have the time, allow some breathing room at the start and end with casual conversation; it can help your interviewee get a little more comfortable or leave things on a positive note. If there’s not a whole lot of time, lead with a simple “How are you today?” and briefly explain what you’ll be doing.
If you’ve ever been on the other of an interview, you know it can be a bit nerve wracking and with people who have Dementia the whole process can be confusing as well. For this reason, it’s important to consider the setting of your interview with a focus on time of day and location. If you know the person’s schedule, aim for a time when they’re most likely to be awake and alert. Just as important as the time of day, consider setting up your interview in a familiar place for them. Not only can this help your interviewee feel more comfortable being in a familiar spot with some of their things can help facilitate memory recall, among other methods.
Recording an interview with someone who has Dementia isn't always the easiest thing; it requires preparation, patience, and empathy. But what makes it worth it is having those stories recorded and preserved for future generations.