“I don’t like to give up on people when they need someone not to give up on them.” – Carroll Bryant

In a recent support group a family member asked, “Why is it, when a spouse is diagnosed with dementia, that friends seem to slowly disappear?”

The question must have been on the minds of many, because almost unanimously, the entire group had the same question on their minds. Where do their friends go?

I have some thoughts about why this happens often in this area. One reason is that so many people move to this area later in life and the longtime friendships are not in place.

There always seems to be a tennis, bridge, or golf friend, but when someone can no longer engage in a sport or card game, that common thread is broken.

What about people who have always been in your life? Where do they go?

For the friends of those who have been diagnosed, there is a lot of fear. Will their friendship become a one-way relationship? How do you treat this person you care about so deeply?

After a bit of research, I discovered a few helpful tips to help friends maintain their relationships.

  • Pay compassionate attention. Dementia can come on slowly over time and even come and go inconsistently.

When you spend time with your friend, watch for changes in behavior.

Rather than be the person who says, “You would not believe what she did today,” know the symptoms and be compassionate to the changes.

  • Use patient communication. Make eye contact. Make use of body language. Talk slower and keep the conversation on an adult-to-adult level.

Reduce background noise to make it easier to be heard and to hear.

Validate, validate, validate. Focus on your friend’s abilities and not her disabilities.

If the conversation slows down,

try playing some familiar music.

  • Be a gatekeeper. Helping a friend re-enter his own community after a diagnosis is a really important way to show your support. Ask if he wants help telling others and what his wishes are.

Help other friends understand the changes and needs of your shared friend and engage her in your shared activities. Always be respectful of privacy.

Having a friend diagnosed with any form of dementia is very sad. Watching a friend decline is also very difficult. Take time to grieve for your own loss. If necessary, join a support group.

Memory Matters can be that support for you. One of our staff members, all of whom are dementia specialists, would be more than happy to sit with you and educate you more about this disease.

Don’t lose your friend after a diagnosis. Knowledge is power and knowledge about this disease can help you to be a better friend.

Contact Memory Matters at 843-842-6688 or visit www.memory-matters.org. Also visit www.soundoptions.com for more suggestions on how to maintain a friendship after a diagnosis of dementia.

Karen Doughtie is assistant director of Memory Matters, serving Bluffton and Hilton Head. karen@memory-matters.org