Last Updated on October 5, 2021 by ashley.davis
Communicating with a dementia patient can be difficult. But you can communicate without using words and still maintain a healthy relationship. It hardly matters how much you love each other if you can’t communicate well. So, we need strategies on how to talk to people with dementia.
How you talk to the person with Dementia will directly influence how they feel. You may also be surprised how well people with Dementia can understand you.
Dementia symptoms vary for each patient and can change from moment to moment, even on the same day. So you will first need to discover the difficulties your loved one is going through. Then you’ll need to opt for communication strategies that your beloved dementia patient can understand.
Today, we will discuss how Dementia affects communication, how to talk to someone with Dementia, and effective Dementia communication strategies. So read on if this is what you need.
How Does Dementia Affect Communication
Memory impairment is one of the ills associated with Alzheimer’s disease. The brain cells or neurons of dementia patients often die off gradually, causing memory loss and confusion. Though losing healthy neurons is common with aging, in the case of dementia patients, loss of neurons is severe.
It deteriorates the patient’s ability to remember and understand new information.
They may occasionally forget what you said just now. For example, short-term memory loss could be noticed when having a conversation as s/he can’t recall something that happened 10 minutes ago. But they may be able to tell about long-term memories which took place years ago. For example, they might tell where they went to school but not the place they visited yesterday.
When it affects the brain, it impacts:
• Communication and linguistic skills
• Perception (Vision)
• Attention or concentration
• Decision-making ability
How to Talk to People with Dementia: 10 Effective Strategies
Dementia signs and symptoms vary from person to person. But there are some general dementia communication strategies & techniques. You can apply these to make communication better. It would be best if you can keep the conversation plain and straightforward. Whether in Dementia home care or memory care, you must always adopt the best communication techniques for them.
People with onset dementia can have regular conversations. But later stages of Dementia can be more challenging. With that in mind, here are some tips for how you can communicate effectively with a person suffering from any kind of Dementia:
Keep Distractions Away
Limit any potential distraction in order for them to focus on you better. Like if the TV is on, shut it down. Instead, find a noise-free calm environment to talk.
Anyone dealing with a person like this should basically do what you can to make the environment more calm and serene. Limit potential distraction at all costs. They won’t be able to focus if other things are going on around them.
Limit distracting background noise (TV, radio, etc.) from reaching them. Always keep the door closed to avoid outside distractions. Find the right place & time to talk. Places where they won’t get easily distracted by other people or noises surrounding them.
This way, it’s easier for both parties to focus on each other. Especially when taking care of people with Dementia.
Use Gestures, Body Language & Facial Expression
You can make the conversation easier for people with Dementia just by using gestures & facial expressions. Like you can nod for affirmative answers, or if you are saying “let’s go” you can point your hand the way you want to go.
Facial expressions are extremely important in communication. People with dementia have a hard time understanding language. Combine words with appropriate facial expressions. They’ll be able to understand better what you’re trying to convey.
Body language and eye contact are so important. Always keep eye contact with them while talking. A pat on the back, holding their hands, can show you are close to them. Also, keep an eye on their body language. They might not be able to say something, but their body language will state what they are implying.
Listen and Listen Carefully
Listening to people with Dementia can be very difficult. They may be easily distracted while you are trying to listen carefully to them. As time goes by, they are much more occupied with their thoughts. They also lose their linguistic skills. They may talk out of context, repeat sentences, say something which doesn’t make any sense. But it is very important that you listen to them and make them feel valued.
Listen to their confused questions and think before you answer. People with Dementia are very sensitive to your reaction. They can feel whether they are listened to or not.
If they repeat the same question over and over again, don’t blame them for it. Listen carefully every time what they want. Sometimes they just need a little help in understanding what has happened /what you meant
Try to listen with kindness instead of arguing back and forth about what they said. Even if that just happened 15 mins ago. They will be happy to see someone who listens and try to help them out instead of getting frustrated.
“Don’t take it personally” – this advice may sound cheesy, but please try your best to follow it. We are all ‘demented’ somehow, in a way.
Talk With Patience and Planning
It’s best to keep things as simple as possible, so try not to talk at length. Keep sentences short and slow.
Repeat things slowly, speak clearly, and don’t get upset if they repeat it back wrong or do not understand. It’s really about you getting their attention than them understanding what was said.
If the person with Dementia wanders off into daydreams, just speak about what they are looking at. Don’t be surprised if they walk away mid-conversation. They are lost in memory and quite happy where they are, so just keep talking as if nothing happened.
If you are talking over the phone, make them feel loved, tell happy stories, speak in a pleasing tone and listen to them. It’s better if you can plan the important talking in the early morning, not after sundown. Sundown syndrome can affect their behavior. Plan rescheduling the same conversation. Try to make happy stories and beautiful memories a part of your talking.
Here are some tips you can always look into before a conversation with people affected by any kind of Dementia:
• Talk slowly and clearly
• Don’t use complex words or phrases
• Look at the person when you’re talking to them
• Have patience – know that it may take time before they answer
• Do not interrupt them – Even if you know, they’ll answer wrong or repeat the same.
• Use name and relation while talking to them. Like, “Mom, I am Linda, your Daughter. Do you know what your grandchild Thomas did?”
• Do not make them choose from complex options or answer tough questions
• Do not argue with them
• Give them compliments
• Identify their communication obstacles and tailor your way
Do not make them overwhelmed
It would be better to start with multiple options. Do not ask them tough or complex questions. We have to understand them. In many cases, people with Alzheimer’s don’t understand the language properly, and it affects communication. Any type of behavior that has chances to make them overwhelmed, avoid them.
Sometimes a simple question can make them overwhelmed. But if you give multiple options, then a person can choose one of the choices. Also, it would be a good idea to offer a break while talking with them. In case of multiple-choice questions, let’s say like this:
For example, “Do you want hot tea or cold drink?” as multiple choices and not asking them A or B. It would make them comfortable to choose. We will always want them to be comfortable.
Here are some “don’ts that you would avoid since it might make them overwhelmed:
• Avoid saying you can’t/won’t/no
• Do NOT talk down to them
• Don’t say, “Do you remember?
• Don’t trigger bad memories
• It’s better now to ask short term memory based questions
• Do not reply aggressively to their bad behaviors
Be Affectionate and Reassuring
When talking to someone with Dementia, it is essential to let them know you care and that you’re right here for them. A caring attitude is very important. One way of showing your caring attitude is giving the person a reassuring hug or kiss on the cheek as a sign of affectionate support. It’s also good to give verbal reassurances that you care about them, like maybe saying something like “I’m always here if you need me.”
Sometimes people with Dementia struggle deeply. They need to feel appreciated by other people in their lives.
Make them comfortable and show support and reassurance. A good caregiver does not use phrases like “You are too old to understand” or “Why don’t you just stay in bed today?”. They take the time to talk and listen, showing that they care about their loved ones. Caregiving for someone with Alzheimer’s disease/dementia means making them feel worthwhile and valuable. For example, say you offer your parent an apple, but instead, he asks for a cookie. You might be tempted to roll your eyes and lecture him on nutrition. Try not to let frustration get the best of you. Rather than talking down to him, calmly ask if he would like both the apple and cookie together instead of one or the other.
Be Creative with the Memory Tour
A trip to memory lane always helps people with Dementia. Reminiscence therapy brings back past memories, which make them smile.
If you are not a trained reminiscence therapist, don’t worry. Reminiscence doesn’t have to be an exact science! Even if it’s just the two of you engaging in a memory tour your it can still be creative and fun for both of you. Here is some advice you can follow:
1. Make Reminiscence Safe
Reminiscing should be natural, recalling about days gone by. Do not bring up bad memories. Do not start reminiscing about the war, or a bad fall that they had, or a painful episode in their life. Allow reminiscence to be all good news and happy memories.
2. Reminisce with Your Patient’s Interests at Heart
If your beloved loves baseball, then reminiscences might include some of their favorite matches. If your mother loved gardening, she would probably enjoy talking about her gardening. Reminiscence should always reflect something the person has personal knowledge or interest in. Otherwise, it will mean nothing to them. So try to capture their passion if possible.
3. Photo Albums Can be a Great Tool for Memory Tour
You can show them your favorite pictures and ask if they can give you some thoughts of their own. It could be any memory that comes to mind. You will be surprised to see how good photos can work for a memory tour.
4. Keep Notes or Make a Book
Write it down for YOURSELF! You will have a good reminiscence yourself which will trigger lots of memories. Perhaps ones you have not thought about for years. So take your reminiscence book along on this journey with your beloved one, and write notes too. You never know when these might come in handy!
5. Reminisce with Objects on a Memory Tour
take some simple things which they used to like/own. Let them hold it and see if it brings back memories. This can be a photo or an item of clothing or even just an old household item they might remember. It can also be a favorite book they might read to you (or vice versa).
Smells can help patients to bring back memories. Let them smell something related to their memories and see if that triggers a memory.
Patience Is the Key
Communication is not easy even when you’re in your best health. It can be more difficult if you have a mental disorder. Speech and communication skills may deteriorate due to illness or medication. Your loved one with Dementia may be frustrated by his inability to express himself clearly. But he still wants the opportunity to communicate.
You must understand what he is trying to say rather than jumping in after just a few words are spoken. Patience while taking time for conversation will help improve communication between loved ones without upsetting them. Taking time for conversation also allows the person with Dementia to express himself and feel heard and understood. It will also improve their mood and reduce stress levels.
People with Dementia need time to answer or reply to a conversation. It takes extra time for them to formulate their thoughts and words, so they should always be given the time to express themselves.
Patience helps people with Dementia feel less frustrated by conversations where others cannot follow along. People with Dementia often take days or weeks to just come up with a complete sentence that makes sense.
Know that There Will be Good and Tough Times
Dementia affects people in different ways. While onset dementia patients can have a normal conversation, but last stages of Dementia can be very challenging. Dementia cannot be cured but can be managed. Dementia is a life-long condition. Patients will go through ups and downs. Symptoms tend to worsen over time, but the speed of symptom progression varies from patient to patient. Dementia symptoms tend to progress faster in people who have certain medical conditions such as Vascular Dementia, Alzheimer’s or Parkinson’s disease, etc.
Accept that your loved ones are different now. But, do not be stuck in denial. One doesn’t die from dementia but dementia can kill you.
You need to know that:
(1) Dementia is abnormal functioning of the brain where patients have problems with thinking, memory, and behavior;
(2) It affects not only cognitive function but also behavior;
(3) And it can cause patients’ personalities to change.
So you always need to know what you are up against. Be prepared for the worst. You may have to detect signs and decide if it’s time for memory care. You might have to be the one who tells her that she needs to enter a memory care facility. Dementia is really a hard journey, and you need to be committed to it.
Research What You Are up Against
Since there is no cure for dementia it is better to research the dementia guide through all the possible ways. Research what experts suggest. Know about the disease progression so that you are aware of the severity. Also, research what medications can be used for the symptoms and what side effects each medication has. You may also look into different memory care facilities and options that assistance programs offer.
Dementia symptoms worsen through the different stages of Dementia. Your beloved one might be in the primary stage and has no significant decline. But through time, it might change.
It is important that you research the disease so you can know what might happen later. You will also need to overcome Alzheimer’s disease stigmas. Research is your key to help your loved one before the symptoms of Dementia deepen in them. So it is better to be prepare before it’s too late to do anything about it. Dementia comes with no cure, and treatment takes a long time, if there is any at all. Suppose you know Dementia’s journey and stages. In that case, learning how to talk with people who have Dementia will come naturally.
Memory Care Can Always Help
You must always be prepared for memory care support. Everything in memory care facilities is purposefully designed for dementia patients. Don’t put it off until later because it might be too late by then already! BoomersHub can help you find the best memory care facilities near you. In addition, our local Senior Living Advisors can give you support for free as per your need.
You have to remember that Dementia is a battle, and you have to face it every day. Communication is a tool to win this battle. Dementia is not only a disease but also a phase about patience, love, and understanding. Dementia can only be delayed. Communication can be THE way to postpone it. So, now you know how to talk to people with dementia. Which strategy do you like the most?