Over the years I’ve interviewed individuals with dementia brought about by Alzheimer’s or small cerebral strokes. What I’ve learned I felt might be of value to those of you facing a similar challenge of interviewing someone with dementia. Keep in mind that in advanced stages of Alzheimer’s it is virtually impossible to conduct an interview.
Here then are my suggestions:
- Be flexible with your interview schedule. Your interviewee might have days when they’re simply not up to being interviewed.
- Be patient and avoid completing sentences for the person.
- Speak clearly and slowly.
- Ask one uncomplicated question at a time.You may have to repeat the question.
- Keep the interview time short. Elderly, sick people usually exhaust easily.
- Focus on one topic. Focusing allows you to get at missing details from different perspectives.
- Don’t niggle over a name or date. Reassure the interviewee that, “It’s okay. We’ll worry about that later.” Be aware that names, places, and dates that the interviewee provides might be inaccurate. If you can verify these with someone in the family, that would be helpful.
- Have a transcript prepared of your interview session and at your next meeting have the interviewee read it over. Reading it might prompt some memory recall.
- Refresh the interviewee’s memory of your last interview. Something like, “Yesterday you told me about your dad. You said he was a stern man. What more can you say about your father?”
- One of the last things to go with many dementia victims is their musical memory. Perhaps some musical selection, a favorite tune, might spark some memories. It’s worth a try.
- It could be useful to have a family member present to help prompt some memories.
Let me know if you’ve found some other approaches that work well when interviewing someone with dementia.
Photo by RebelBlueAngel