Giving Care: Senior & Disabled Caregiver Resource Blog

How to Communicate With Someone Who Has Dementia

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Learning how to communicate better with somebody with dementia is the key to avoiding conflict. Improved communication between you and your loved one allows for the relationship to remain as healthy and functional as possible. While their memory and capacity for communication begin to fade, the opportunity for meaningful connection doesn’t have to. So with using these techniques, you’ll learn how to communicate clearly and more effectively.

Cultivating Patience and Compassion

The most important tip to keep in mind while communicating with someone with dementia is patience and compassion. Without keeping these attributes in mind, whatever technique you may try to implement could be pointless. It’s incredibly important to keep realistic expectations for your loved one. Unfortunately, they will not suddenly regain their memory and ability to communicate one morning, so it’s up to you to guide them and recognize their successes nonetheless. You may find it very frustrating or disheartening to see them struggle- but it’s crucial to keep that emotional response under control. They are likely to be upset enough without seeing you upset as well. Aim to approach each situation from a place of love and understanding that allows them to feel supported by you. Refer to these additional tips for extending compassion for extra guidance.

Initiating Conversation

The way in which you choose to start a conversation with your loved one sets the tone for your time together. It is recommended that you approach them in the most direct way possible. Make yourself clearly visible to avoid startling them, say their name, and speak at a volume appropriate for them. Also, you’ll want to consider slowing down the speed which you talk, opting for accessible vocabulary, allowing time to think between thoughts, and asking closed-ended questions when possible. If you’re loved one is having a hard time understanding what you’ve said, attempt explaining it exactly the same way before restructuring. This gives them a few chances to try and understand you. It is likely that your loved one’s struggles with dementia will increase over time. For more tips on best communication tips at the different stages of dementia, see here.

Types of Communication

Verbal communication is just one of the many ways in which humans can interact with one another. Using non-verbal communication whenever possible gives your loved one more chances to understand and connect with you.  It is also an effective way of making it clear that you care about them. Facial expressions, like good eye contact and relaxed eyebrows and jaw, show your loved one that you are listening and are calm. However, an angry or blank expression can be extremely hurtful and discouraging. Keeping your face relaxed will promote calming them as well. Always pay attention to their facial expressions. Often someone with dementia will not be able to communicate what they are feeling. Try connecting facial features to what they are saying. If it doesn’t match, facilitate new conversation to try and find out what they want to say. You can also use a gentle touch when appropriate as well as hand gestures to better relay your messages.

Find out what their favourite way of communicating is. If they have trouble with words, give them a marker and paper. If they have difficulty writing, understanding hard angry scribbles as opposed to happy excited ones. Giving them constructive ways to help them express their feelings is good to practice not only for them but for you. It will help you keep your calm, allowing them to be constructive about angry behaviour. Finding the right mechanisms will also allow you to feel accomplished leaving both parties happy.

Be flexible and open when trying to communicate better with someone with dementia for the least stressful experience.

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