The end of the school year is here and summer is in full swing! After a year of learning, students are tested to see just how much they’ve learned—or how much they can retain at the end of the year.  But there is a group of people who should never feel like it’s exam time, and that is anyone who has dementia.



People who have dementia should not feel that they’re being tested.  You’re probably thinking “most people with dementia don’t go to school, so what are you talking about?!?”

I’m talking about every day conversation.

For people with dementia, ever day conversation can start to feel like an exam.  Much of our basic conversation is comprised of questions and answers.  But those questions typically rely upon memory.  Sometimes, there is even an implication that the answer can be right or wrong….and guessing the wrong answer can make someone feel embarrassed or not very smart.


For someone with dementia, a typical conversation starter such as “what did you do last weekend?” suddenly becomes a test.  It relies upon short term memory from a few days ago.  It is a fact-based question where the typical response recounts an itinerary or agenda.  But if you can’t remember what you did yesterday or three days ago, or an hour ago, suddenly this typical conversation starter feels like a test.


Questions such as “did you go to the market?” imply a right or wrong answer.  Someone with dementia might recognize that answering “yes”, tends to lead to the follow up question “what did you buy?” which becomes another test of short term memory.  Sometimes people resort to saying “no” to such questions just to avoid being asked any follow up questions.


When having a conversation with someone who has dementia, aim to ask opinion based question. The beauty of an opinion based question is that it cannot be right or wrong—it is your opinion.  Instead of saying “did you go to the market?” you can instead ask “do you enjoy going to the market?” Once you get a conversation started about the market, you might help to trigger the memory for your loved one who can suddenly remember “I went to the market the other day!”  When not faced with the “test” of trying to remember, they may be better able to access the memory.


Asking about opinions or feelings keeps the conversation open and in the present tense.  Opinions are always in-this-moment, as we all reserve the right to change our opinions over time. Opinions don’t rely on short or long term memory. Opinions are not inherently right or wrong.  Expressing opinions and feelings rather than talking about facts and dates will allow someone with dementia to more fully participate in the conversation without feeling like they’re being tested.


So leave the exams to the students, and let your loved ones with dementia have a free pass with no tests!

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