This post will review some communication strategies and tips when speaking to a loved one who has dementia. Persons with dementia may not always process and comprehend conversations in the way they did before their dementia diagnosis. Better communication strategies can decrease or eliminate frustration and allow persons with dementia to receive better care from their loved ones.
What you need to know about dementia
Dementia is irreversible, meaning the changes in the brain that are causing dementia cannot be stopped or turned back.
Dementia will get worse over time.
At this time, there is no cure, but there are supportive measures.
Abnormal behaviors and thoughts are a common part of the disease process.
You cannot control or change the course of the disease.
Communicating with someone who is living with Alzheimer's disease or another dementia can sometimes be challenging. Dementias gradually diminish a persons' ability to communicate. Communication with a person with Alzheimer's requires patience, understanding, and good listening skills.
Tips for talking with a loved one
Learning how to interact well with your loved one or anyone you know who has dementia will help to improve their care. you may find these tips helpful:
Make sure you and your loved one have extra time. A person with dementia may sometimes require more time to process information and take longer to respond.
Turn off the TV, radio and close the door so your loved one can concentrate on you. If a person with dementia does not recognize you, introduce yourself before speaking. Sometimes a person may need to introduce themselves and their role multiple times during a conversation with a person who has dementia.
Speak clearly and with warmth.
Don't use baby talk. Speak slowly and in a reassuring tone. For better understanding, you may need to rephrase. Talk about one thing at a time. Sometimes too many topics in a conversation can be overwhelming and cause stress and anxiety, which can worsen a person's behaviors.
Correcting every wrong statement may cause frustration for you and your loved one. Abnormal thoughts are part of the disease process. If your loved one expresses these thoughts and it is not upsetting, don't correct them. Let it go. However, if these expressions are upsetting, change the topic or the environment.
Talk about the distant past.
Often long-term memory remains intact, and talking about the past can be soothing for your loved one. Avoid making the person remember events from earlier in the day or past few days or years. Try getting them to talk about things they enjoy. Do not insist on correcting them. Sometimes let it go; don't correct mistakes. If a loved one forgets that a spouse or child has passed, it may be upsetting if you remind them of the death of a loved one. Imagine hearing about the death of a loved one for the first time; over time, you start to feel better and heal. For a person with dementia, they may repeatedly experience a person's death because of difficulty remembering the event. You may want to change the subject. Sometimes patients with dementia may look around the house for someone who has already passed, acknowledge their concern, and be patient.
Avoid certain phrases.
Telling a loved one "remember" and "I told you so" can be incredibly distressing. If a person with dementia asks the same question multiple times, rather than saying "remember," answer them like it was the first time you have heard the question.
Be patient in waiting for a reply.
Suggesting a word is ok. Sometimes loved ones with dementia have trouble finishing their sentences or forget common words.
Observe body language. Sometimes a person with dementia may not have the ability to express feelings or pain. Paying attention to body language can help you in understanding if your loved one is experiencing physical or mental stress.
Listen for the feeling behind the word.
If your loved one becomes upset:
First, acknowledge his or her feelings. For example, "I see you're upset....." then redirect. For instance, suggest going outside to look at the birds.
When giving instruction:
Don't command or demand!
Break the activity down into a few simple steps. Especially with a person who may have more advanced dementia, they will have difficulty managing and comprehending multiple commands at one time.
Show them how.
Remember to assure your loved one. People with dementia are often anxious and insecure. Early on, people are often aware that something may be wrong and that they may not be processing information correctly. Be sensitive to their feelings, and respond with warmth and comfort. Remember, in addition to words, communicate using eye contact, smiling, and gestures.
Please feel free to contact me with any questions or recommendations for future posts.