20 ways to make Zooming with a person who has dementia more meaningful

It’s often difficult to communicate in person with someone who has dementia. If that person lives at a distance, it’s even harder. Using zoom is a great option, especially if someone can assist with the mechanics. But if that person is hard of hearing, seeing, or has aphasia communicating on zoom becomes even more challenging.

Here are some ways that you can connect via zoom so that you feel less guilty about not being there or not being able to communicate the way you wish you could.

Even if your conversation is limited to a minute or two, the person on the other end will appreciate your taking the time to check in with them or to just say “hello.” Your loved one may not be able to speak or hear you, but just seeing your face will provide a bit of comfort.

  • Plan to eat together. Ask the person caring for your loved one to prepare something that you both especially like. Eat together and talk about the flavors, colors, and texture. This may be helpful if your loved one is having eating difficulties. Or, indulge in a special treat such as ice cream. This can be an opportunity to reminisce about going out for ice cream. What are your favorite flavors and where is/was your favorite ice cream parlor?
  • Hold up meaningful photos to the zoom screen. Don’t use words like “remember when. . . .” Instead, talk about the people in the photos and the special events where they were taken. Or talk about what those people are doing now, what they’ve done or where they live, etc.
  • Include your pet, if you have one. Dogs and cats contribute feelings of warmth and may elicit memories that your loved one had if they cared for a pet.
  • If your loved one is still engaged in a hobby such as knitting, fishing, quilting, or woodworking, show some of the items that they used or still use. If they painted a picture that you’ve hung in your house, display it on the screen and talk about how much you like it and why etc. If you both knit, plan a knitting session.
  • Does your loved one enjoy gardening? Bring in a pot of petunias or whatever you have growing in the garden, and talk about the colors, the smells, what you enjoy about gardening, and what they have enjoyed.
  • Do you have a hummingbird feeder hanging on the back porch? Show it on your zoom screen if you have a laptop or tablet.
  • If your loved one played an instrument, or if you play an instrument, use the time to play a recording or the actual instrument.
  • Children love to perform, especially on zoom. Have your child dance, sing or do acrobatics for your loved one. If you don’t have any kids, borrow a neighbor’s. It’ll bring cheer to everyone.
  • If your loved one can hear well, maybe they would enjoy being read to. A poem, an aphorism, a joke, a proverb, a short tale–or even a list of the funny things that kids say–may evoke a smile or chuckle.
  • Do you and your loved one share a love for fashion and jewelry? If they’ve gifted you jewelry, wear it while you’re on zoom and talk about how much you’ve appreciated it throughout the years.
  • If you both like to draw or paint, arrange with the caregiver to provide your loved one with the materials to create something while you’re on zoom together. Choose to create your own piece or not.
  • If you have a second digital device, take your loved one on a tour of a country, city, or art museum.
  • Did your loved one enjoy birding or identifying wildflowers? Find an app on your phone or tablet for birds, flowers, etc., and hold it up to the zoom screen. Some of these apps even contain bird songs.
  • Talk about a trip that you’re planning or have recently gone on. Describe it with sensory images using colors, smells, and sounds. What was the highlight of the trip?
  • Do some simple chair exercises together.
  • Find a copy of their local or hometown newspaper and pick out an event or interesting news item to share.
  • It’s been suggested that instead of looking straight into the camera, it’s better to turn your body sideways to the screen into a supportive stance. Supposedly it opens the other person’s visual field because you’re no longer the dominating object on their screen, and also reduces the otherwise excessive amount of eye contact.https://news.stanford.edu/2021/02/23/four-causes-zoom-fatigue-solutions/
  • Repeat or rephrase the last few words that your loved one says. Their last words can help them keep a fluid conversation. This lets the other person know that you heard what they were saying and helps calm them if they’re in distress.
  • Offer compliments freely. “I like your hair” “You look so good today.” “You’ve always been so good at . . . .” This helps establish the connection and lets the person know they are appreciated.
  • Pray together if your loved one would enjoy that.

Barbra Cohn cared for her husband Morris for 10 years. He passed away from younger-onset Alzheimer’s disease in 2010. Afterward, she was compelled to write “Calmer Waters: TheCaregiver’s Journey Through Alzheimer’s & Dementia”—Winner of the 2018 Book Excellence Award in Self-Help—in order to help other caregivers feel healthier and happier, have more energy, sleep better, feel more confident, deal with feelings of guilt and grief, and to ultimately experience inner peace. “Calmer Waters” is available at AmazonBarnes & NobleBoulder Book StoreTattered Cover Book Store,  Indie Bound.org, and many other fine independent bookstores, as well as public libraries.

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