Communicating with Dementia Patients

Author: Rick Cseak

Witnessing a loved one with dementia or Alzheimer’s can be a very painful experience. As they progress in the disease, memory problems become more noticeable. Eventually, that impairment causes the loss of self and they may not even recognize their friends and family. Communication with loved ones who have dementia can be tricky at times, but not impossible.

Keep in mind that even though your loved one seems like an “empty shell” of who they once were, there are ways to have meaningful conversation with them. Some days will be better than others, but there is still a wonderful person behind the disease.

Here are some tips on how to communicate with your loved one with dementia.

  1. Acknowledge the challenge. Dementia does worsen as time goes by. People who suffer from dementia will struggle with understanding those around them, along with challenges in communication.
  2. Listen actively. If your loved one is telling you something that you can’t understand, let them know in a kind-hearted and respectful way.
  3. Stay patient. Dementia causes a person to need extra time to process what’s being said. Questions may be repeated multiple times and you may to answer them several times in several different ways. Staying patient until they understand will go a long way in having meaningful conversation.
  4. Don’t talk about multiple subjects at once. Dementia makes it difficult for a person to engage in conversations that have multiple subjects. One thread at a time allows them to follow and stay involved in the conversation.
  5. Use a reassuring and calm voice. Do not talk to your loved one like a child, even if they seem to be acting like one. We must remember that although dementia may send them backwards, they are still an adult who deserves respect and honor. Avoid any kind of baby talk or condescending tones.
  6. Incorporating cues that aren’t verbal. Non-verbal communication can be very reassuring. Things like smiling, keeping eye contact or a tender touch can go a long way and help your loved one relax and communicate clearly. As dementia becomes more severe, verbal communication may become rare, so learning how to help your loved one through these times with body language is so very important.
  7. Use names. Whenever possible, avoid personal pronouns such as “they,” “he,” or “she.” Instead, use peoples’ names. Whether it’s yourself or others, using names in conversation will give your loved one an extra mental boost so they can understand.
  8. Avoid correcting when possible. If you notice misstatements or wrong facts, don’t stop to correct them. Allow them to finish their thoughts and don’t quibble over the small stuff.
  9. Remove distractions. Look for places and times to communicate that don’t have outside distractions or excess noise. Remember that they may need all their mental energy to talk through things and focus.
  10. Expect good days and bad days. Although dementia is a progressive disease, always keep in mind that there will be ups and downs, just like any other disease. Make memories as often as you can and enjoy the good days. On the bad days, reach out for help and support and know that it’s equally difficult for your loved one.

For more information on communicating with dementia patients, call us today!



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