When a loved one is diagnosed with dementia or Alzheimer’s disease, everything becomes different. The way we think, act, plan and even communicate may bring challenges, and become increasingly difficult through the stages of dementia. Different stages require additional assistance and support, but the process may be easier to work through if you apply these dementia communication techniques in your conversations.
1. Reading Body Language
Nonverbal communication plays a major role our day-to-day conversations and can be even more influential in conversations with dementia patients. Kind facial expressions and positive tones convey pleasant experiences. When talking with a loved ones, ensure your conversations are being held at eye level. If they are sitting, sit beside them and do not make them feel inferior by talking “down” to them. Physical touch conveys sincerity and safety, so hand holding, placing a hand on the shoulder or sitting close enough to touch can make patients feel secure and protected.
2. Keeping Focus
By removing excess noise such as the television or radio, you are better able to keep the attention of a person with dementia. This not only keeps the focus on the conversation but when several events are occurring simultaneously, it can cause frustration or even anger. Closing a door or drawing the blinds helps to block out sound and sight distractions. When speaking, use the patient’s name, so they know when they are being addressed.
3. Conveying Clarity
Use common language and speak in short sentences to prevent confusion. If you are explaining a series of events or talking about people, avoid using general words and pronouns. According to the Hawaii Medical Journal, individuals with declining memory are unable to “co-reference.” Co-referencing is the ability to understand pronouns in sentences. For example, you wouldn’t say, “Frank called and said that he would be there to pick you up before taking you here.” Instead, you would say, “Frank called. Frank will be at the doctor’s office at four to take you home.”
4. Asking Questions
Communicating with dementia patients requires asking many questions. Ask questions one at a time, and wait for a response before asking the next. Avoid open-ended questions or giving too many options. employ either/or questions. For example, “Do you want coffee or tea?” keeps the focus on the question without being overbearing. In the later stages of dementia, yes/no questions can be misinterpreted and answered incorrectly, so rely on their body language and facial expressions for clarification. Visuals are helpful in clarifying responses, and physically showing options reduces confusion. Do not ignore patients by speaking about them in their presence without acknowledging them or including them in the decision-making process.
5. Listening Intentionally
Communication is a two-way street. Listen and seek to understand what your loved one is saying. If they are having difficulty finding the right word, make helpful suggestions, but do not finish the end of all their sentences. Likewise, pay attention to their body language and emotions, as they may be more indicative of their feelings than the words they are using.
6. Embracing the Silence
Don’t feel as though every pause in the conversation must be filled with constant chatter. Sitting in quiet companionship provides a comforting break from difficult conversations about medical appointments, finances, and caregiving. A light hand holding or some soft music gives you both a pleasant rest.
7. Talking to Others
You are not alone on this journey. Just like your loved ones, you too will have good days and bad days when it comes to communicating. Find friends, family or a support group to talk with about your experiences, and don’t be afraid to ask for help. Assisting Hands Home Care provides trained and qualified staff to lend a hand in assisting individuals with dementia and Alzheimer’s.