Top 10 tips for communicating with a dementia sufferer

It is indescribably painful to witness the deterioration of a loved one with Alzheimer’s or any other type of dementia and learning to communicate with them during this time is of utmost importance. Whether you are a caregiver or are currently living with a loved one who is suffering, it can be both difficult and uncomfortable to know how to communicate in certain situations while understanding the behaviours associated with the disease.

Here are some practical strategies for dealing with the troubling behaviour problems and communication difficulties often encountered when caring for someone with dementia.

 

Get Their Attention

Before you speak, it is always best to have the person’s attention, addressing them by name and introducing yourself by telling them your name and your relation.

Be aware of noise and distractions and limit any possible distractions like television and radio by turning these off or moving to a quieter area if possible.

 

Keep the mood positive

We communicate a lot through our body language, facial expressions and tone of voice. If we appear to be positive, upbeat and confident instead of resentful, confused or unhappy, this will bring a sense of hope and reassurance to the conversation.

 

Don’t Argue

Some of the greatest challenges of caring for a loved one with dementia are the personality and behaviour changes that often occur and cause disagreements. You can best meet these challenges by being flexible, patient and compassionate.

Don’t let frustration get the better of you, it’s ok to let delusions and misstatements go.

 

Speak Clearly

When verbally communicating, speak clearly, slowly and naturally in a warm and calm voice. Try to avoid ‘baby talk’ or any other kind of condescension. Regardless of how much the person with dementia can or cannot understand, treat them with honour and use a respectful tone of voice.

 

 

Ask Simple Questions

Using simple and straightforward language and asking simple questions are the best ways to communicate clearly.  Ask one question at a time; those with a yes or no answer instead of open-ended questions. These work best to avoid giving too many choices.

If you don’t understand what is said, avoid making assumptions. Check back with the person to see if you have understood what they meant.

 

Show Affection

A common symptom of dementia is confusion and anxiety. As dementia progresses, patients often struggle to differentiate between what is and isn’t real. At times, holding hands, hugging and touching can get a warm response through these physical gestures of comfort, reassurance and support.

 

Maintain Humour

Humour is always a great way to release tension and is good therapy. People with dementia tend to retain their social skills and are usually happy to laugh along with you, given it is not at their expense.

A lot of the time, laughing together over mistakes and misunderstandings can help keep the normality and positivity of relationships.

 

Engage With Your Eyes

Engaging well with someone and maintaining positive, friendly eye contact is important in any relationship, but good non-verbal communication is very important for people with dementia.

Keeping good physical body language will make them feel more comfortable and relaxed. If the person is seated, get down to their level rather than standing over them and be sure to maintain good eye contact and positive facial expressions when you communicate.

 

Reminisce

A great way to communicate with a person with dementia is to take a trip down memory lane. Doing so can be a soothing and positive activity. Typically, a person with dementia is more able to recall things from many years ago than recent memories. The positive feelings gained from sharing fond memories can decrease stress, boost mood and minimise feelings of frustration and anger.

 

Leave Time for Response

It often takes patients some extra time to process what you say. If you ask a question, be patient and give them some time to respond. As much as it can be frustrating and confusing, it is important to not let these frustrations get the better of you.

 

Posted 25th October 2019

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