If you have someone in your life who has been diagnosed with dementia, you already know how important it is to communicate clearly and frequently with them. While they may not remember things like they used to, they can still understand what you’re saying (most of the time). However, that’s not to say it’s always easy to communicate with loved ones who have dementia. As dementia progresses, their ability to communicate declines as well – leaving plenty of room for miscommunication and frustration on both ends.
Stay Positive, Warm, and Calm
Studies have shown that your loved one with dementia is much more receptive to a conversation if you are warm and calm. Try to avoid phrases like, don’t forget or do you remember? Instead, say things like, “Here is your favorite, I would like to take you on a trip in your memory. This way we can see what fun times we had together when you were younger! What do you think?” Positive engagement makes a world of difference in helping ease their stress levels and keeping them engaged and active in meaningful communication.
Try to limit outside noise and other disturbances. Noise can make it difficult for aging adults with dementia to understand what you’re saying. Asking them to repeat themselves also can create a great deal of frustration on both ends, which should be avoided whenever possible. Of course, try not to isolate them from loved ones or family members who might be important in their lives; instead, work toward creating a balance that allows everyone access and time together. For example, if your loved one with dementia needs quiet time before bed because of disrupted sleep patterns, you may have to find other times throughout each day when they’re able to interact with others more freely.
When communicating with someone with dementia, it’s important to be sure they know who you are. If they’re able to remember your name and greet you in a friendly manner when you visit, then it’s likely that they do recognize you. But if they seem distant and don’t give a verbal greeting when you enter, then their memory of you may have faded or completely disappeared. It is not uncommon for loved ones with dementia to not recognize those closest to them (spouses, parents, siblings), but that doesn’t mean all hope is lost! Re-introduce yourself every time you visit. Give them your full name and tell them something about yourself, like your profession or where you are from.
When you’re speaking with someone who has dementia, it can be frustrating for both of you if he or she doesn’t understand you. Speak clearly and distinctly, so there is no chance of confusion. Allow extra time for them to respond and repeat words several times if necessary.
Ask Open-Ended Questions
It can be easy to make statements that will not cause someone with memory loss confusion, but that may also lead them away from a conversation topic they are interested in talking about.
Communication is always difficult when a loved one has dementia, but being direct can help. Don’t beat around the bush with questions or conversation topics. Stay focused on one topic, like a specific question you want to ask or something they want to tell you. If your loved one is constantly being lost in their thoughts, try engaging them by repeating back what they say. Your loved one will often respond favorably, appreciating that you are actively listening and trying to understand what they are saying.