General Question

NostalgicChills's avatar

How do I speak to someone who no longer functions the way they used to?

Asked by NostalgicChills (2784points) November 10th, 2011

My grandmother is at a nursing home, and I visit her everyday. I just found out recently though, that there is a young girl in the nursing home, only 25 years old, suffering from a genetic condition. She is all skin and bones, cannot talk in a way that is understandable, and cannot move the way she used to. She does, however, understand what you’re saying and she is aware of her surroundings. The only visitor she gets is her mother, so I thought I would visit her for at least 15–20 minutes a day. The problem is, I can only say so much to someone I don’t know. What do you talk about to someone who isn’t able to answer you back?

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28 Answers

keobooks's avatar

Find out if there is some way she can communicate that is non verbal. She may feel too weak to “talk” too much if she’s in that bad of shape. If you can communicate enough to find out what kind of books she likes, maybe she’d enjoy being read to.

I think it’s great you want to visit. I hope someone does that for me if I’m in the same shape.

Tropical_Willie's avatar

Go and read her a story or book.

Judi's avatar

If she’s your age, why don’t you bring your favorite book and read it to her?
should have read @Tropical_Willie ‘s post first.

NostalgicChills's avatar

She’s not my age, I’m 16, she’s 25.

Judi's avatar

@NostalgicChills , I haven’t read it, but my daughters love Mysts of Avalon. I think you both might like it.

Response moderated (Off-Topic)
Ayesha's avatar

That is so nice of you! Read her a good book, how a about short stories with happy endings. Sometimes play her soft music. Tell her a little bit about your likes and dislikes. If you have some funny stories to share with her about you that are not too personal, do that.

thorninmud's avatar

I work with many people who have disabilities that make them very hard to understand. This is terribly alienating for someone who is fully cognitive, because most people either assume that there’s not much going on “in there”, ar aren’t willing to take the trouble to interact on more than a cursory level.

One simple technique that can work well is to use a letter board. Draw out the alphabet with a Sharpie on a piece of paper or poster board. If she has the ability to point, she can spell out words, or at least those that you can’t understand from her speech. Say each letter as she points to it, then when you think you know what the word our sentence is, say your guess. She’ll confirm if you’re right. It sounds tedious, but you’ll be surprised at how intuitive it becomes. If she can’t point, then you can “scan” the board with your own finger, and she can give an audible signal when you hit the right letter.

CWOTUS's avatar

What a lovely idea.

If I were her… I’d want you to talk to me about boys. It seems obvious that she won’t have a boyfriend, so she might find vicarious enjoyment from hearing of your encounters, hopes, dreams, fears, etc. (Assuming that you’re both heterosexual, that is. Maybe she wouldn’t care, even if one of you isn’t.)

Aside from that, I’m a card player, and it’s always hard to find someone else to play cards with: cribbage and gin for two players, and other games for more.

john65pennington's avatar

Can she write? If so, your avenue of communication is open. Buy a chalk board, take it to her and see what happens.

gailcalled's avatar

We used to do the old -fashioned jig saw puzzles with my mother. We also played checkers and Scrabble with her. We were able, however, to leave the games or puzzle set up for an infinitely long time.

This is more interactive than listening to you read to her, but that’s a nice idea also.

Does this young woman have her cognitive skiils intact? Can she move her hands well enough to pick up a puzzle piece, a Scrabble tile or hold several cards at one time?

janbb's avatar

Is there anybody in the place who knew her before she got so bad who would know what her interests are? It would be great if you could find that out and then bring things that interest her.

I think it is great that you are doing this; both visiting your grandmother every day and now this girl.

YoBob's avatar

Read her a book! You can even pick one that you have been wanting to read but haven’t had the time.

gailcalled's avatar

@NostalgicChills: I have been brooding about this question because it reminds me of the tricks we used with my mother, who had severe senile dementia during the three years before her death in late May of this year.

While I love the idea of you reading to her, it leaves her (as she must be much of the time) as the passive partner. Put on your creative hat, talk to the social workers and try to find an activity that will engage her.

It sounds as though there is a 25-year-old person inside the shell, with an active intelligence and a need to do whatever she is able to do.

CaptainHarley's avatar

Whatever you decide to do to communicate with her, whether reading books to her, or finding some way to let an action of hers indicate “yes” or “no,” will surely be deeply appreciated. You are to be commended.

I’ve been through an awful lot in my life, and now fear virtually nothing, except this sort of thing. I think I would rather die than be forever trapped in my own body.

Meego's avatar


YOU ARE AWESOME!!. 16 yrs old and spending your time greatly I love it!

I think you should start talking to the mother and tell her you think her daughter is courageous and you would like to be her friend and what would she (the mom) think about that. Once you start that then at first you can visit the lady with her mother and “learn” what is the best way for communication.

Good luck! You rock!

snowberry's avatar

Find out if her sense of touch or smell is affected. She might like it if you hold her hand. You could put perfume and/or hand lotion on her. People in nursing homes don’t get touched enough. It means a lot to just have someone stroke their face, comb their hair, or put lotion on. Don’t be shy about it. Ask the nursing staff what they suggest. They’ll be delighted to show you what’s appropriate.

Simone_De_Beauvoir's avatar

Talk about anything you want. This isn’t a weird situation. This is a human situation. Be human. And it’ll be fine.

YoBob's avatar

GA @Simone_De_Beauvoir!

Q: How do you treat a person with a handicap?

A: Like a person!

SpatzieLover's avatar

Bring her flowers, a poster, something vibrant to look at from the outside…

Read some magazines with her. Share time.

Leave a note for her mom, letting her know you’d like to spend a few minutes with her here & there. Her mom should be able to call or email you some of her interests.

I did this a few times when I’ve had relatives in nursing care..It’s a great way to make a friend

Bellatrix's avatar

I agree with the read a book/magazine idea. Or take along a CD that is popular in her/your age group and listen to music with her. What would you do with friends who could communicate verbally? I flick through magazines with my friends sometimes and talk about the clothes and silly stories. Can you borrow a laptop and watch current films with her? I also just remembered my kids (26/24/18) spend a lot of time sharing YouTube videos on the phones. Perhaps you can show her some of the latest hot YouTube things.

I think you are beautiful for wanting to do this. In Australia, many young people who have disabilities end up in aged care units. To have someone closer to her own age to talk with (even if she can’t talk back to you) would have to be very welcome.

augustlan's avatar

[mod says] This is our Question of the Day!

Kayak8's avatar

I think this is a great question and I think it is cool that you are interested in reaching out. I agree with checking in with her Mom regarding her interests, etc. I might spend one visit with a photo album of my family or a favorite vacation (the photos give her something to look at and give you something to talk about). I love the reading idea (and she may even appreciate having you read articles from a magazine relating to one of her interests). The benefit of a magazine is that the stories are complete in a shorter time and then you can talk about what you read. A book of short stories may also feel less overwhelming to you than a large book might feel.

The lotion idea, above, made me think of beauty night. You could (if ok with the nurse) do a facial or brush her hair, etc.

green20's avatar

Action speaks louder than words. I’m pretty sure she knows that you care about her by simply being there and without saying much. Simple gestures are enough to make someone feel happy. You can bond with her by reading her a book, watching DVD’s or by listening to music.

Kayak8's avatar

OK, I thought about this question all night! Please report back what you decided to do and how it went. I want to hear more about your experience with reaching out to this young woman!

NostalgicChills's avatar

@Kayak8 I decided to follow the advice a majority suggested, which is reading her a book. I haven’t done it yet, because I’m going to talk to her mom and find out what kind of books she likes.
I also gave her a stuffed animal and painted pictures for her, which, shown by the expression on her face, made her extremely happy! :D

keobooks's avatar

Oh I also wanted to mention that just because it’s hard to understand her, doesn’t mean it will always be impossible for you. If you ask some simple questions that you kind of know the answer to, you will start to understand the gist of what she’s saying. After that, you can talk about anything.

Meego's avatar


~you’ve just made my day honey!

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