March 31, 2023
5 Tips for Communicating with Someone with Dementia
When someone you love starts to show signs of dementia, it can be difficult to adjust to their changing behavior. You may find yourself becoming easily frustrated when they forget to take the medicine you’ve reminded them about 50 times before. Their increased irritability at small tasks may start to cause tension. Many different character and behavioral changes associated with dementia are gradual, so you may have time to prepare for adjustments in your communication tactics.
Various types and stages of dementia, or diseases affecting cognitive function, may respond differently to ways of communicating. In this blog, we’ve put together six tips for communicating with someone with dementia to help you navigate this seemingly relentless disease.
AVOID RAISING YOUR VOICE, BOTH IN VOLUME AND PITCH
It’s important to remain calm when speaking with or talking to your loved one with dementia. Even when conversations or behaviors become frustrating, showing signs of anger or frustration can cause someone with dementia to become equally upset. It can also cause them to shut down completely, whether from embarrassment, anger, or some other strong emotion. Raising your voice won’t get your point across any quicker, nor will it help anyone to better comprehend what you’re saying. Speak in a slow, calm voice to help avoid confusion or bursts of emotion.
High pitched voices can sometimes be hard to understand, especially when someone is experiencing hearing loss along with dementia. Try deepening your voice and repeating the question if it doesn’t seem to be understood the first time. If that doesn’t work, try rephrasing the question while maintaining a deeper voice.
ASK SIMPLE QUESTIONS
Short sentences are easier to comprehend. Sentences that contain multiple questions or points of topic may become confusing. Use ‘yes’ or ‘no’ questions when you can, or provide only a couple options. For example, instead of asking “what would you like to do today,” try asking “would you like to listen to music or do a puzzle?’ Give them the ability to still make decisions, but guide them on options to choose from.
CREATE A ONE-ON-ONE CONVERSATIONAL ENVIRONMENT
Create an environment where your loved one feels comfortable and can easily hear your questions or conversation. If loud noises are a distraction or deterrent, try moving somewhere quieter. Maintain eye contact throughout the conversation, and give them plenty of time to process and respond to your requests. Treat each discussion with respect, and don’t talk to them as if they’re a child.
Dementia causes a loss of cognitive functioning. As dementia and memory loss progresses, people begin to lose their ability to reason. Trying to rationalize the situation won’t be effective. No matter how hard you try, arguing won’t produce the outcome you desire.
Instead, try deflecting the situation, providing reassurance, or even accepting the blame. For example, if your loved one tells you that you need to run to the grocery store for milk (even though you just bought new milk yesterday), reassure them that you will take care of it. Avoid confrontation by saying you bought the milk just yesterday, and avoid using phrases like “don’t you remember?” Questioning their memory could cause them to become angry, embarrassed, or confused.
ACCEPT THAT THINGS ARE CHANGING
Unfortunately, dementia is a prognosis that only gets worse with time. However, that doesn’t mean it should be treated like a death sentence. Enjoy your time with your loved one. Laugh, play music, and discover what makes them happy in the moment. Talk about what they want to talk about. Learn about their past. Accept that things are changing, and learn to adapt so you can create new, happy memories for yourself.
It’s also important not to take anything personally. It’ll be hard when your loved one no longer recognizes you. Do your best not to become visibly upset when that happens. You may also find that your loved one begins using inappropriate behavior or phrases as dementia progresses. Excuse yourself from the situation if you have to.
When someone you love has dementia, it may feel like you’ve lost them to the disease. It’s important to remember that there are still ways to effectively communicate with them, even if their answers and mannerisms differ greatly than they once had. Now is the time to discover new ways of enjoying moments with them. Adapt to their changes, and remember not to lose hope.