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Mother is 92 years old, and has had several physical events that have led to cognitive decline. She has not been diagnosed with Alzheimer's, but she's past moderate cognitive decline. She is in a wonderful and caring continuum care facility where she and my dad moved to Independent Living in 2006. He passed in 2012.
At any rate, she is vision-impaired, as well as hard of hearing. She can see us and knows who we are, but as for showing her pictures, or reminiscing, she really has no long-term or short-term memory of events and some people. She's very sweet and mellow, and compliant. In fact she always is afraid she's doing the wrong thing.
I guess I'm wondering what we do, other than keeping conversations down to a couple of minutes of "How are you doing? Can you see the weather outside?" A CNA brings her a tablet for the conversation and she says "Bless you" frequently, and blows us kisses at the end.
We're only an hour away and tried the distance in-person visits, but her vision and hearing (especially with masks) just didn't work. The sunlight made her sleepy, as well.
Is 5 minutes enough? I know she's happy and as comfortable as someone can be at her age and what her body has been through. It's kind of stressful for us, but it's not really about us. As I said, she's happy to see us, but has nothing to contribute to the conversation, nor do we have a life exciting enough to share - and she won't know what we're talking about.
The anticipatory grief is tough, and the situation is so different than when we lost Daddy.
I also had no idea what topic this should go under.

I just spent time assisting family members to video call their Mother. Most calls were 5 mins or less, just to say hello, we are thinking of you. One talked for longer. I could see the strain when he asked questions - sometimes she couldn't muster the energy to answer or wasn't given enough time. She seemed to prefer just listening. If too long she would drift off, look out the window, looked tired. I think 5 mins was plenty for her - to see & hear but not too long on her concentration.

Ater the calls, I would ask if she was OK. Yes, but tired. Said one talked *a lot* & that she didn't always listen that hard, but it was nice to hear his voice.

I wanted to share the other side & to say don't feel guilty for not having longer calls. A shorter one may be more beneficial. Be guided by her & bless you both.
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Wuuhuu Sep 14, 2020
Thank you. This helps to know lengthy talks aren't really necessary.
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I have tried sharing a snack moment with my mom. I schedule a time with admin. I buy a box of her favorite doughnuts, drop them off the day before so they can quarantine, alert the unit staff not to give her a snack before our FaceTime via IPad the next day. Call in am to remind them. When I get the call, they bring the doughnuts 🍩 to her. I have a doughnut in my hand and I wave enthusiastically and eat the doughnut “with her” Sometimes it works, other times she has gone back to bed or not interested in eating a doughnut. Most conversation is futile she doesn’t hear or comprehend or goes into “Come and TAKE ME HOME”. The shared snack does occasionally help.
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Wuuhuu Sep 14, 2020
Thank you for sharing this idea. I've wondering if I could send treats to her and what they would do. I'll have to ask and find out. And thanks for sharing that you also have to face her saying take me home. It's so hard and my mom has started saying that to us. :-(
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My husband is in late stage Early Onset Alzheimer’s and is no longer coherent. He wants to talk though. I do a lot of telling him I love him and how wonderful he is. Many times I’ll sing him a song and he seems to enjoy that and tries to sing to me too. Best wishes.
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renoir Sep 14, 2020
Sad yet wonderful you have found such a beautiful way to connect with your loved one. Such a great reminder to us that the message of love is the most important message. Music or song is a great connector as well. Take care
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Ask her questions about the past. That part of memory is sharpest. All conversations, even unsubstantive, are helpful and therapeutic. Especially if she has cognitive decline! She needs this interaction more than ever.

What was her favorite food as a child? What did she do to cool off on a hot summer day before AC? What funny stories does she remember about learning to drive? Ask about pets, hobbies, education, romances, favorite events, jobs. Keep it positive. Ask the kids to come up with great questions. Don’t ask about things you already know. Open ended questions will get her mind moving. If she makes a mistake or goes off topic, be positive and go with the flow. Don’t correct or redirect. If these conversations are happy (not critical) she will get excited for them. You will cherish memories of these conversations someday. If they become exciting, record them.

She will have good days and bad days. Don’t give up on her if she has a bad day.

If you tell her one of your problems and ask her for advice, she will feel useful and important.

If all the conversations follow the same format. “Hi.” - “How are you?” “What are you doing?” “How was lunch?” It would be hard for anyone to last more than 3 minutes.

I recently ran into one of my Grandmother’s dear caregivers who was hired after Gram became medically diagnosed as nonverbal/dementia following a serious fall after age 100. I was surprised to learn that she knew more stories than many family members - all told to her by Gram! Gram was not really nonverbal, just bored with us!

Now that my parents have passed away, how I long to ask them substantive questions about their high school experiences, military service, fears, secrets to happiness, the list is endless.

I visited Mom’s friend in memory care. She missed her deceased husband and I started asking about their romance. When I asked for “their song” she started singing and my daughter pulled up a recording on her phone. An obscure song from the 1940s! She really came to life, singing, duet-style with the iPhone, we recorded the event as tears were running down all our cheeks. (Her kids told me that they did not know their parents had “a song”).

The one thing that is not unlimited is your time together.
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tuffdecisions54 Sep 11, 2020
Thanks for the ideas!

I've been trying to do things such as reading to her, showing her pictures, etc., but her diminished vision and hearing has made it difficult to communicate back and forth now. My sister took her on a virtual tour of her new home yesterday and Mother was impressed and talkative, but had forgotten by today that it happened. After her last emergency (rolled out of bed and hit her head a few weeks ago, her long-term memory is shot, too. Doesn't really remember family members too well, and doesn't want to talk about it. So I'm putting together a plan B.
I'll try some of these other suggestions. We can't visit in person, so touching, such as hand-holding is out. We keep smiles on our faces and comment on how pretty she looks and how glad we are to see her, and make sure she sees our kitty.
Thanks again!
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Really it is making a connection that counts so you shouldn't feel bad if five minutes is all that is practical. When my mom got to the point where she was mostly blind, deaf and mentally foggy I usually didn't even try to converse with her, just letting her know I was by her side was the best I could do, if they allow it you could take her for a walk or just hold her hand on your visits, letting her nap in the sun may feel like a treat to her (sometimes I took a book to read).
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I have posted this in answer to similar questions. This is a great video on how to talk to someone with dementia.

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ilickabmjww&t=171s

Hope it helps.
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GardeningGal Sep 15, 2020
Thanks for sharing this link! She's an engaging presenter and has such a positive outlook.
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I would take cues from her.
If it seems like 5 minutes is enough then it is.
If she wants to talk more then let her talk more.
She may surprise you one day and want to have a longer talk.
but just checking in and saying... Hi, that is a pretty blouse you have one and I love the way your hair is done today. Oh, I put a package in the mail for you, I will call next week to see if you got it....might be enough for one day. Next week you can ask if she got the package of treats. (Include some treats she likes as well as some treats for the staff....prepackaged for staff nothing home made and you might even check to see if they would permit home made things for her)

The amount of time is not important it is the thought and what is accomplished in the time that matters.
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tuffdecisions54 Sep 11, 2020
You're probably right at the stage she's in. I plan to hold a care conference to see what those who are with her every day see.
She's a shell of her former self, but very sweet. I think there are distractions in the room where she sits for the calls, which don't help. Just people carrying on their business, but it gets her attention away from us. She is never encouraging us to end the conversation, but she's fine with us saying we need to go and will see her next week.
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I agree, take cues from her.  My mom still thinks we pay for long distance calls, and wont talk long.
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disgustedtoo Sep 11, 2020
My mother was always like that! Not so much with me, but my OB who lived 2 days drive away. 5-10 minutes was about it (and that was before dementia!) and she would say "you're running up a big bill." Either that or she had to go to the bathroom.

Hard to explain it ain't like it used to be with long distance calls mostly covered on land lines and most cell plans. Again, that was before dementia, so it was just something that always was an issue for a long time. After dementia, one could only hope for her to say this or have to go, otherwise you listen to the same things over and over for 30 min!
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There is a website Caregivers for compassionate compromise - the group is working to allow family to be designated as Essential Caregivers to be able to see loved ones again. I think it's time. People are dying of isolation.
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Reply to BeverlyJane
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Keep your conversations in the moment. let her know that you love her. Ask her about how she is feeling. Ask about her "in the moment" and what she likes. Share your "in the moment:" your weather, plants blooming or trees changing colors, what family members are up to... Realize that some of the conversation my be beyond her, but the goal is connection. If both of you are happy after your conversation, then time is not an issue.
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