Losing the ability to communicate can be distressing for both a person living with dementia and their loved ones. You may feel saddened and overwhelmed as your loved one’s communication skills deteriorate, or frustrated as you no longer understand their wants and needs.
While communication may be a challenge, there are simple techniques you can use to bridge this gap. The dementia communication strategies featured below will guide you through the process of how to talk to someone with dementia.
Remember that each individual is different and they’ll have both good and bad days. On particularly challenging days, simply hearing the voice of a loved one or holding their hand may provide much needed reassurance and comfort.
How Does Dementia Affect Communication?
Dementia is a progressive illness that will eventually affect a person’s ability to communicate. Communication is the primary way in which we interact with the world around us, therefore, losing the ability to communicate can be distressing for those living with dementia.
As dementia damages the areas of a person’s brain responsible for language and memory, a symptom called “aphasia” occurs. Aphasia results in difficulty speaking, writing and understanding speech. While each person is unique and will have differing symptoms, the most common communication problems include:
Loss of focus
Difficulty recalling relationships
Limited language capabilities
While communication may become increasingly difficult over time, these simple dementia communication techniques will help you to communicate confidently and clearly with your loved ones.
Remember that while learning how to talk to someone with dementia is helpful, it’s also important for carers and family members to look after themselves. Caring for someone is a rewarding experience but can also be physically and emotionally stressful. If you feel yourself experiencing the signs of carer fatigue, such as anger or anxiety, seek out support.
How to Talk to Someone with Dementia
Use these communication tips for dementia to speak confidently and clearly with your loved ones.
Always announce yourself by name, rather than relationship, and approach your loved one from the front to avoid startling them. Saying “Brenda” instead of “it’s your daughter” acts as a verbal cue that may help jog the person’s memory and avoids confusion if they are unable to recall close relationships that day.
Keep it simple
As dementia progresses your loved ones may struggle with logic and reasoning. This is why it’s important to keep conversation simple and stories brief. Focus on one topic at a time, keep the conversation pleasant and avoid using slang, nicknames or discussing complicated subjects. The simpler you can keep the conversation, the more the person with dementia will be able to stay engaged and participate.
Find their strengths
Until the late stages of dementia, most people retain many of their long-term memories. Instead of focusing on what the person has forgotten, try and highlight what they do remember. Each individual is different and it’s up to their loved ones and carers to find their strengths and engage with the memories they have retained.
Photos and music are both great tools that can be used to help someone with dementia remember fond and pleasant memories.
Give them time
People living with dementia may need more time than usual to find the right words or to complete a thought. Avoid rushing them or jumping in and trying to complete their sentence. Let your loved ones speak without interruption. Expressing any form of frustration or impatience tends to make things worse.
Use non-verbal cues
Certain non-verbal cues like smiling transcend all languages and convey a sense of joy and calmness to your loved ones. Smiling, holding their hand, and making eye contact are all dementia communication techniques that can be used to reassure your loved one and put them at ease.
Avoid sudden movements, frowning, speaking harshly or any other non-verbal cues that can be distressing or startling to a person with dementia.
Don’t treat them like a child
Never talk down to the person or use any form of “baby talk”. It doesn’t improve communication in any way and it can be insulting to the person. Use the same respectful tone of voice that you would use when speaking to any older adult.
Dementia can make it difficult for a person to focus, so try and find a quiet and comfortable place to talk. Limit any potential distractions such as TV, radio, or any other distracting objects or sights. If possible, sit face-to-face with the person in a quiet and calm place.
Avoid “resistance words”
A common mistake that people make when communicating with their loved ones with dementia is using the words “no”, “can’t” or “don’t” too often. When communicating, these words act as barriers and can lead to resistance or frustration from the person who feels they are being challenged.
If your loved one wants to do something they can’t or shouldn’t do, rather than telling them “no” it’s best to redirect the conversation. Avoid confrontational language and try guiding the discussion to something more pleasant with leading statements such as, “Oh that reminds me! Did you know that today I…”.
Avoid constant corrections
People living with dementia will make mistakes in communication. They will confuse and mispronounce words and struggle with other language problems. It’s important not to nitpick the person or to constantly correct their language. Go with the flow of conversation and learn to ignore inaccurate words or mispronunciations. Help your loved ones find the right words to use without overcorrecting them.
Ask close-ended questions
For a person living with dementia, answering questions can be difficult and lead to feelings of frustration and anxiety. When speaking to your loved ones, always ask-close ended questions or questions that can be answered with a simple yes or no statement.
Instead of asking “what did you do today?” try saying “I heard you spent some time at the beach this morning, was it windy today?” This sort of question is narrower in scope and gives the person something specific to focus on (was it windy today?) as they try to come up with an answer.
How a Live-In Carer Can Help Someone with Dementia
Watching someone close to you struggle with the communication and memory problems that accompany dementia can be devastating, especially for families coping alone.
If you believe your loved one needs more care, help is available in the form of Live-In Care. Live-In Care allows the person to continue living in their much-loved home while receiving the professional support they need.
The Good Care Group has been innovating dementia care for over 10 years. Our professional carers are well-versed in a wide range of best dementia care practices designed to reassure your loved ones, reduce stress and anxiety and facilitate communication.
We take a collaborative approach to dementia care by working closely with medical experts, academic bodies and leading charities such as Contented Dementia Trust. Our care teams receive ongoing training and mentoring based on the latest research and knowledge surrounding dementia care.
Thanks to the expert care provided by our care team, your loved ones can continue to thrive at home despite the challenges presented by dementia. All of our professional carers are trained in the SPECAL method – that includes dementia communication techniques designed to keep your loved ones calm, engaged and positively communicating.
If you’re struggling to communicate with your loved ones or with any other form of care, contact our friendly team today to learn if Live-In care is right for you.
TALK TO US ABOUT DEMENTIA ADVICE AND YOUR CARE NEEDS
Our friendly and experienced team is here to help you and your family make sense of the options available to you. Call us today – we will help you every step of the way.