Creative Ways to Talk to Someone with Dementia
If you have a loved one with dementia, you understand the challenges that can come with communicating with him or her. Difficulties with speech are often among the first, most noticeable symptoms.
One of the biggest challenges is that communication issues eventually become more obvious and problematic for dementia sufferers. The person with dementia may confuse the meanings of words, have difficulty learning new phrases, or jump from topic to topic without completing a sentence.
Despite all of these challenges, there are some tried and tested techniques that can help you communicate with your loved one, even as their dementia advances. Here are some strategies to help you keep the conversation going.
Use non-verbal communication
Humans communicate with each other in many ways, not just with words. Facial expressions are important for someone who’s struggling to have a conversation, so maintaining eye contact is a must. You can also use other physical cues, such as gestures, or your posture, to help the person with dementia understand what you’re trying to say. Meanwhile, eyebrows knitted in frustration, arms crossed or folded tightly in front of you, or an apathetic expression can send negative signals.
Positioning & environments are important
Always try to choose a place that’s conducive to a clear conversation, like a quiet room with good lighting that’s without a lot of distractions (such as the TV). Then make sure that you position yourself where the person can see you clearly and where you’re on the same level, rather than standing over them. Sit close to the person, but not so close that you’re invading their personal space.
Since a big part of your role involves listening to your loved one with dementia, there are some techniques that can help you sharpen your listening skills:
*Listen carefully and offer encouragement if the person is struggling to express themselves.
*Rephrase what they’ve just said if you don’t fully understand and ask if you’re right.
*Give the person plenty of time to respond—it may take them longer to process information and respond in the way they want. Avoid interrupting or breaking the pattern of communication.
*Let them express their feelings, whether it’s sadness, grief or joy.
Use conversational crutches
Being specific in casual ways will improve verbal exchanges. Instead of saying “him,” say “your son, John.” Identify things with consistent labels (“your white tennis shoes”), and stick to familiar and easy-to-understand topics (the weather, what’s for dinner) if issues such as current events or politics become too complicated.
Be patient and supportive
Emphasizing a person’s struggles when he or she repeats the same conversation you had just a few minutes ago will only embarrass and frustrate them. Give polite, simple responses (even if they’re the same ones you gave earlier) and redirect the conversation if possible. Their insistence means the subject is important to them. While it’s fine to provide an occasional prompt, frequent corrections, or seemingly critical remarks can eat away at their self-esteem and make the situation even more frustrating.
By modifying your communication—and listening—skills, you’ll make it easier for your loved one with dementia to express themselves. Keeping calm, patient, clear, and understanding while also utilizing non-verbal techniques should help keep the lines of communication open.