Why is it difficult to communicate with someone with dementia?
The progressive brain disorder makes it more difficult for the person affected with dementia to remember things, think clearly, communicate with others, or to take care of themselves. Compounding the loss of mental functioning is that dementia can cause mood swings, and changes in the person’s personality and behavior.
Therefore caring for a loved one with dementia, who once cared for themselves becomes a challenging and often stressful undertaking for the family and caregiver. If you make the effort to learn to communicate with someone who has dementia, care-giving will improve the quality of your relationship and your ability to handle difficult behavior with your loved one.
The following are some effective communication tips:
Set a positive mood for communicating and interacting with a loved one as the tone of your voice and your body language are more meaningful than your words. People with dementia have difficulty understanding words. Try to always approach individuals who have dementia with a smile on your face, and positive gestures.
- Ensure you have the person’s attention by addressing them by name. Tell the individual your name and relation. Minimize surrounding noises by turning down the television or radio, or move the individual to a quiet area to reduce distractions.
- State your message clearly, slowly, and use simple words and sentences. When asking questions expect a simple response like yes or no. If asking questions with options, limit it to two, and whenever possible hold the item within eyesight. For example, do you want to wear the blue shirt or the red shirt, so the individual can either point to the shirt, or give a simple response like “blue or red.”
- Listen with your ears and eyes, and give the person time to respond. If the person is struggling with words, it is acceptable to suggest words. Pay attention to nonverbal cues, and body language.
- Break tasks into a series of steps, with clear simple instruction. For example, pick up the toothbrush, and if the dementia is advanced you may have to point to the toothbrush. Once this task is completed then proceed with the next instruction.
- When your loved one becomes upset distract and redirect. You can suggest a change in environment like going to another room, or suggest another activity, like going for a walk, or feed the birds, etc. It is important to connect with the person’s feelings by stating the feeling, e.g., “I see you are feeling worried, and I am sorry you are upset.” Then change the topic.
- When communicating respond with affection and reassurance. People with dementia often feel confused and anxious and may recall events that never really occurred in the present. It is important not to try and convince them they are wrong.
- Instead focus on the feelings they are demonstrating, and respond with verbal and physical expressions of comfort and support. Physical touch can be reassuring, so touching or holding their hand.
- Reminiscing about the past is often soothing as people with dementia may not recall what happened 60 minutes ago, but can recall events 45 years earlier. Avoid asking questions about short term memory, but ask questions about the person’s distant past.
- Humor is effective in communicating with people who have dementia. They often retain their social skills, so they will laugh with you. Remember laughter diminishes stress, and anxiety.
Want to find out more?
Family Caregiver Alliance
Caregiver’s Guide to Understanding Dementia Behaviors
Next week in my conclusion of this series, I will discuss some common troubling behavior, and management strategies. For example, refusal to bath, wandering, or aggressive behavior, and other behaviors the Caregivers may encounter.
Helen Trowsdale, President of AA Care Services, is a nurse administrator with over 30 years of experience as a BSN, psychiatric nurse, and geriatric care manager with adults as well as pediatrics in hospitals, private duty home health care agencies, and residential home health care. Her team of caregivers are dedicated to serving their clients with home care in San Antonio, New Braunfels, and Austin; providing clients with consistent, quality care while minimizing the number of caregivers in the home. Learn more about AA Care Services.