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Communicating with Dementia Patients

communicating with dementia patients

Tips For Communicating With Someone Who Has Dementia

Having an older family member affected by dementia is challenging. The disease is progressive, which means it gets worse as time goes on. Dementia impacts the brain and causes memory problems. It also makes it hard for the senior to perform everyday tasks, affecting their ability to follow and understand steps.

In addition, it eventually makes it hard for the person to communicate effectively. They may be unable to start conversations, which means family members and caregivers will need to draw them into communicating. It also means that the senior may be unable to tell others when they need something, are in pain, or are feeling sad, frustrated, or bored. As a result, they may engage in difficult behaviors, such as aggression or wandering.

Knowing the below tips for communicating with a senior who has dementia will improve their quality of life and make caring for them easier.

Notice Changes in Communication

Be observant about your aging relative’s changing abilities. Are they initiating conversations less often? Are they having more trouble finding the right words or expressing thoughts? Recognizing the changes can help you to respond to them and to coach others in how to respond.

Keep the Mood Positive

Even if the older adult has problems understanding verbal communication, they will still be able to recognize your non-verbal cues. Your tone of voice, a gentle touch, and your expression can help the senior feel more comfortable and understand that you care about them.

Draw Their Attention

Before you begin speaking, make sure you have the senior’s attention. Make eye contact by sitting or standing directly in front of them. However, if they are sitting, don’t stand over them as it can be intimidating. Use a soft touch to turn their attention to you. Use the person’s name and tell them your name and relationship to them, too.

Set the Stage

Too much distraction in the environment can make focusing on conversation difficult for a person with dementia. Turn off the television and radio. If there is a lot of activity going on in the room, move the senior to a quieter room to talk.

Keep Speech Simple

Use simple words and short sentences when you speak. Speak slowly and clearly. Avoid asking open ended questions, which can be confusing or overwhelming. Instead, ask yes or no questions or questions that give the person a choice between two things. For example, “Would you like a ham sandwich or a turkey sandwich?” or “Do you want to wear the red top or the blue top?”

Allow Time for Response

It can take longer for a person with dementia to respond to you. Try to be patient and give them ample time to respond. It can be tempting to rush them, make assumptions about they want, or finish sentences for them. However, feeling rushed can lead to frustration and make them feel pressured, complicating communication even more.

Be Respectful

Avoid talking to the senior as though they were a child. Yes, you need to speak more simply, but avoid being patronizing. Call the person by the same title you always did, such as “Aunt Emily” or “Mr. Johnson.”

Don’t Argue

There is little point in arguing with someone who has dementia. Their reality is no longer the same as yours. If they make up stories or use nonsense words, just go with it.

Break Down the Steps

If you’re trying to help the older adult to complete a task, break it down into small, simple steps. For example, instead of saying “Get dressed,” tell the person to “put on your shirt” then “put on your pants.” For a task like this, it can also help to set out the items needed in the order they will be used. So, place the clothing in a line on the bed in the order they will be put on.

Pay Attention to Body Language

As your aging relative loses more of their ability to communicate verbally, their body language will become more important in understanding how they feel or what they want. Watch their facial expressions and their posture for clues.

Spend Time Reminiscing

As dementia progresses, it can be easier for the older adult to remember things from the past than current events. Therefore, reminiscing can be a pleasant way for them to pass the time. Encourage them to tell you stories about when they were younger. Use a photo album or keepsakes to spur their memories.

If All Else Fails, Distract

Dementia can make older seniors repeat a behavior, question, or phrase over and over. And, the inability to express themselves can lead to aggressive behavior. Again, it will do you no good to argue with or yell at the person, so a distraction may be the best tactic. Try redirecting them to an activity they enjoy or offering a favorite snack.


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