Communicating with someone with dementia can often be a confusing and frustrating experience for both parties. As dementia diminishes cognitive function, it can be difficult for our affected loved one to carry on a conversation in the same way that they used to. By putting someone who has dementia under pressure to speak ‘normal’, you are only making a stressful situation worse. If you have a loved one with dementia, it is important to find ways to effectively communicate. Learn how to talk to someone with dementia in a way that you both can understand and enjoy.
Common Symptoms of Dementia
While the early signs of dementia can be subtle, the condition becomes more evident as time goes on. Memory loss is one of the most common signs of dementia that occurs when core mental functions are impaired. People with dementia may also experience problems with language and communication, a reduced ability to pay attention or focus, and poor visual perception. While everyone can have trouble finding the right words to say sometimes, people with dementia may forget words frequently or substitute inappropriate words which can make their sentences more challenging to understand.
As most types of dementia are progressive, symptoms may start out slow and gradually worsen. In addition to declining cognitive function, those with dementia may also develop other conditions or behaviors, such as depression, vitamin deficiencies, thyroid problems, and excess use of alcohol. It also is not uncommon for people with dementia to experience mood, behavior, or personality changes as their condition progresses. When mood swings occur, dementia patients may become confused, withdrawn, or suspicious of those around them. Dementia can also cause a person to lose interest in the activities that they used to enjoy.
Tips for Dementia Communication
- Introduce Yourself
- Set a Positive Mood
- Use Clear and Concise Communication
- Limit Noise and Distractions
- Make Use of Props
- Be Calm and Patient
Always start out the conversation by greeting the person and telling them your name, such as “Hi mom, it’s me, Katherine.” While a loved one with early or mid-stage dementia may know who you are without you telling them, dementia patients in the later stages of the disease may not recognize you. Do not get frustrated if the person forgets your name or says the wrong name, even after an introduction. Stay calm and continue on with the conversation as normal. Remember, memory loss is a common symptom of dementia and not the fault of the person with the disease.
Just as important as what you say is how you say it. Your loved one may become confused if you walk into the room with a sour look on your face or talking too loud. You can set a positive mood using the tone of your voice, facial expressions, and physical touch. Ideally, you want to smile and appear happy to see the person. The tone of your voice should be calm and pleasant. Small acts of physical kindness, such as holding the person’s hand as you speak, can also provide comfort and reassurance.
When speaking to someone with dementia, avoid using slang or figures of speech. This can be confusing to your loved one who may not understand what you are trying to convey. Instead, you want to use short sentences that are clear, concise, and easy to understand. In addition, you should avoid asking too many open-ended questions. If you need to ask a question, ask one that requires a yes or no answer. You may also ask a question and then give two options. For example, “Do you want milk or juice with your breakfast?”
Loud noises, too much activity, and other types of distractions can make it difficult for a person with dementia to carry on a normal conversation. If possible, go to a quiet room away from distractions like children and the TV before starting a conversation. Once you have a quiet place to talk, make eye contact with your loved one and speak clearly and loud enough so that the person can hear you. However, you do not need to talk too loud because you think that the person is older and might be hard of hearing.
It can sometimes be difficult for people with dementia to remember family and friends from names alone. It may take some visual cues before they start to remember. If you are speaking about specific people and the person with dementia appears unsure, have a photo album or other reminiscence tool handy. By showing the person a picture in a photo album, they can physically see who you are referring to making it easier to understand. Looking at photos of friends and family can also be an enjoyable activity for people with dementia.
When talking to someone with dementia, it is important to stay calm and have a lot of patience. Dementia sufferers may take longer to respond during a conversation as they need more time to think about what they want to say. While you are waiting, just smile, relax, and let them take as much time as they need to respond. Do not feel like you have to continue talking to fill the silence. Sitting in a comfortable silence is okay. You can also choose to fill the silence with soft music that you both enjoy.
Acquiring In-Home Care Services
People with dementia have special needs that family members are not always able to provide. From communication barriers to a diminished ability to perform activities of daily living (ADLs), dementia sufferers often need the assistance of in-home care professionals to maintain health and well-being. These in-home care professionals have vast knowledge regarding verbal and non-verbal communication and know how to talk to someone with dementia. An in-home care facility can also provide information and support to families of dementia patients. For more information about how to effectively communicate with someone with dementia, contact a professional in-home care agency today.