Have you ever felt overwhelmed when people have long conversations with you or offer you too much information? Many of our patients with Mild Cognitive Impairment (MCI) tell us they feel this way–too much information coming at them too fast. In the HABIT program we work with couples where one partner has MCI and the other doesn’t. We often work on communication tips to improve communication in these wonderful, loving partnerships. Here are a few of our most frequent communication recommendations and some examples of how to apply them. If you are living with MCI and feel you struggle to keep up in a conversation, we would encourage you to try some of these tips with your loved ones.
Short and sweet.
A main recommendation is keeping the message short and sweet. Ask your loved one to communicate with you by using fewer words. Ask them to use short direct sentences that are brief, and in a gentle and soft voice. Due to MCI, you may experience attention and concentration difficulties because the brain has difficulty processing information. Keeping sentences short, with one idea or thought per sentence, may make it easier to understand. Longer complex sentences may be too much for the brain to process resulting in feeling overwhelmed, switching the brain off, or getting frustrated or angry.
We also encourage your loved one to pause between those short sentences so you have time to write down what you’d like to keep track of. Ask for that pause if you need your loved one to stop and give you a minute to catch up. Shorter sentences and pauses help separate thoughts which can help you absorb and process information better. Pauses also give you the opportunity to ask questions, if you have any.
Putting it together–some examples
Example 1: Going out for dinner with friends.
Don’t say: We are going out for dinner with the Smiths tonight at 6pm at Spagettios, and they are looking forward to seeing us. We haven’t seen them in how long?
Do say: We have dinner tonight with the Smiths at 6pm. *pause* We are going to Spagettios. *pause* How long has it been since we’ve seen them?!
Example 2: Can’t remember the name of a person.
Don’t say: You know, his wife’s name is Mary and we went out to dinner with them about a month ago and he talked about golf. He ordered the steak and wore his purple shirt….His name starts with a J.
Do say: His name is John.
Example 3: You’re repeating a question, for example, a question about the date of an upcoming trip.
Don’t say: Don’t you remember, we already talked about this? If you just think about it a little longer you’ll remember. Remember we talked about it last night with the kids and grandkids they are excited about going. You used to go there as a kid and really enjoyed it!
Do say: We leave for Disney on June 12. Can I help you write that in your calendar so you’ll have that information?
Example 4 (for those using a Memory Support System or Dayplanner/DayTimer organizational system): Going to a doctor’s appointment.
Don’t say: We are going to see Dr. Stevens at 2pm and I want to make sure we remember to discuss your chronic pain, sleep, and memory issues since it’s really been affecting your mood lately.
Do say: We are going to see Dr. Stevens today at 2pm. *pause* Let’s write this down in your planner. *pause while getting out the planner*. 2pm Dr. Stevens. *pause* Please make a note *pause* Discuss chronic pain *pause* sleep *pause* memory *pause* mood. Is there anything you can think to add to this visit?
It can be difficult for your loved ones to pause or to shorten their sentences. Feel free to ask them to pause or tell you just one piece of information at a time. For example, you might ask them to tell you the date of some upcoming plans but then wait until you open your calendar to that date. Then ask them the time, then the details of the plans you may wish to record. You can work together with your loved one to help them get into this habit to help maximize the information you take away from your conversations! Do you have any other communication tips you’d recommend for your family and friends? We’d love to hear from those of you living with MCI what communication tips you find most helpful.