A good evening out
October 12, 2015 9:06 PM   Subscribe

I'm giving a church-related dinner in a couple of weeks. Two people on the guest list happen to have neurological problems that make conversation difficult for them. I'm looking for advice on how to make sure they feel included in the conversation and enjoy themselves.

My church is doing a series of fundraising dinners for a broader denomination-wide social justice initiative, and I offered to host one for eight people (including my husband and me and three other couples). Of the three other couples who signed up for our dinner, one person has Alzheimers and another has a degenerative disorder that slows her speech. Both are coming with their spouses. Both are former professionals (a doctor and a history professor, both of whom are highly intelligent).

I'm a little less concerned about the guest whose degenerative disorder results in her speech challenge--it sounds as if just being patient and giving her time to get her words out is all that is needed, but I could be wrong.

However, I particularly want to make sure that the woman who has Alzheimers enjoys herself and that both she and her husband feel as if she's had a good evening out. When I talk with her at coffee hour after church, her remarks are extremely disjointed, and it feels as though I've entered an ongoing conversation for which I have no context. My approach has generally been to just take it where it leads, or to ask very concrete questions to which she finds it easy to respond (e.g. "Do you like cats?") or compliment her on the sweater she's wearing, or so forth. A lot of smiling and nodding is involved, however, and I worry that in her more lucid moments she finds that sort of thing patronizing. I know it's all very frustrating for her, and a lot of her frustration is directed toward her husband (who clearly loves her but makes her do things she doesn't quite understand).

I've searched for information on how to interact casually with people who have dementia, but almost all of the advice I've found is geared toward caregivers and family members. As an acquaintance and fellow parishioner who wants to help a bright person whose cognitive functions are betraying her feel as normal as possible for an evening, I'd really love some insight.
posted by tully_monster to Human Relations (3 answers total) 5 users marked this as a favorite
You might find this thread useful--there are lots of good suggestions on making conversation with an acquaintance who has dementia.
posted by hurdy gurdy girl at 9:30 PM on October 12, 2015 [1 favorite]

If you are hosting at your home, I would review the surfaces and paths of travel and lighting. To make sure everything is as safe and accessible as possible.
posted by ClaudiaCenter at 10:41 PM on October 12, 2015 [3 favorites]

Thanks, hurdy gurdy girl--I breezed past that post, thinking it was more caregiving advice, but it is very useful. We had a successful dinner, and I think she had a good time. (One or other of our boy cats took turns in her lap for most of the evening, which she really enjoyed.)

In this case, lighting and paths were not an issue for us or for her, but ClaudiaCenter's point is an excellent one in general. Thanks to both of you for your responses.
posted by tully_monster at 3:17 PM on October 25, 2015 [1 favorite]

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