Communicating with a person living with dementia can be a frustrating experience. The symptoms of dementia cause the senior to have trouble finding words, or they may repeat sentences. Patience is key, and so is avoiding saying things that may confuse or distress someone with dementia.
What is dementia?
A progressive brain disease, dementia is not a normal part of aging. While memory loss is the hallmark of dementia, occasional forgetfulness should not be misconstrued as dementia. A dementia diagnosis is accurate when the individual shows at least two impairments that interfere with daily life.
The various types of cognitive impairments affecting those with dementia include increasing difficulty with the ability to focus, reason, use language, communicate and, most recognizably, remember. When the senior faces new obstacles with communicating and memory, for instance, dementia may have set in.
During the early stages of the disease, dementia patients experience confusion. Lapses in memory and judgment lead the seniors to struggle with finding the right words. Using even familiar vocabulary is a common obstacle, which makes it difficult for the senior to express himself.
Another early symptom of dementia is trouble following storylines. Similar to problems finding the right words, dementia patients may forget the meanings of familiar words in the midst of conversation. As a result, conversing with a senior with dementia may take longer or cause frustration.
Speaking with a person living with dementia should follow recommended guidelines. Approach the individual with a tone of respect. Specifically, avoid speaking down to them. Use their names when calling them, instead of patronizing terms, such as “sweetheart” or “honey.”
When an elderly loved one receives a dementia diagnosis, family members and caregivers should use the following five effective communication strategies while asking questions or having conversations with the dementia patient. Experienced caregivers understand the good intentions behind these guidelines.
1. Avoid disagreements
A senior in the early stages of dementia is unlikely to have experienced cognitive decline before. Arguing with a person with dementia yields negative results. Firstly, the senior’s confusion exacerbates the situation. Secondly, fighting back against what appears to be untrue statements upsets the senior.
Outright disagreement should be replaced by changing the subject to something more pleasant. Rather than direct verbal aggression toward the senior with confrontations, such as, “You are wrong,” or similar phrases, distract the senior. Wrong comments will be common, so distract and diffuse.
2.Avoid using abstract speech
Dementia gets worse over time, making it necessary to adjust normal communication. A senior with dementia will have difficulty understanding what a caregiver or family member is trying to say. Using slang or figures of speech only confuses them even more.
A family member might say, “It’s raining cats and dogs.” A dementia patient will show surprise and utter confusion, going so far as to look out the window to witness the preposterous event. The affected senior will take statements, like, “there’s no use crying over spilled milk,” literally.
3.Avoid asking open-ended questions
Open-ended questions are difficult for a senior with dementia to answer. For example, a caregiver might ask the senior which dress she’d like to wear. The elderly individual is forced to try to recall the different dresses in her wardrobe in order to make a choice, which causes unnecessary distress.
Rather, ask questions that require a simple “yes” or “no” answer. Even better is to display options. A caregiver might hold up one green dress and another yellow dress, then ask the senior to choose one to wear. Visual strategies are effective ways to communicate with a dementia patient.
4.Avoid using multiple commands
A family member might combine several commands in one sentence: “Get dressed and have a bite to eat, so we can go shopping.” The senior with dementia is unable to process the various directions as quickly as she was once able. Long sentences only lead to confusion in the senior.
A more effective solution is to break down the instructions, so that one command is included in each short sentence. The caregiver might start with, “I’ll help you wear your green dress.” Follow the directive by saying, “Eat this snack.” Then complete the communications with, “Let’s go to the car.”
5.Avoid asking seniors to remember
It is natural for family members to reminisce with elderly loved ones. Asking a dementia patient if she remembers a person or event is stressful. Forgetting is a primary symptom of dementia. Asking seniors to recall information causes sad feelings because they realize they have lost their memory.
Rather than asking questions that force the senior to try to remember, make statements. For example, a family member might say, “I remember when we used to go the carnival.” Statements like these gently lead loved ones down memory lane while causing less angst for the senior.
Dementia is no fault of the senior who suffers from it. Family members should take care to speak with their loved ones in new ways once a dementia diagnosis is made. Efforts to communicate compassionately with dementia patients bring harmony to all involved.
Memory caregivers from Assisting Hands Home Care understand how to best communicate with seniors struggling with dementia. Our professional caregivers are trained to identify and gently handle the elderly when they display the various signs of dementia, such as agitation, incontinence and wandering.
Assisting Hands Home Care in-home care services are designed to support the dementia patient in the comfort of home. We remind our elderly care recipients to take correct doses of medications on time. Our caregivers prepare nutritious meals and provide pleasant companionship to reduce social isolation.
The comprehensive elder care services offered by our home care agency include assistance with the activities of daily living. Our flexible care services meet the needs of families with senior loved ones living in the surrounding communities of Richardson, Dallas, Fort Worth, Texas. Call us for our quality dementia care services.