Seven useful Tips for Communicating with a Person with Dementia

Recently updated on January 5th, 2023 at 06:21 am

It is hard to see someone grow old. Standing at the sight of your loved ones losing their health and memory is challenging. Dementia is an enduring and complex experience for the person with dementia, their caregivers, and family members. Communicating with a person with dementia can be especially challenging due to changes in memory, behavior, and language abilities which vary from individual to individual.

Dementia is a problem that is being faced in every other house. As dementia progresses, It requires a lot of patience, compassion, and understanding on the part of caregivers and family members communicating with dementia patients. The mood swings and radical changes in the behavior and personality of a person are hard to deal with. If you have any dementia patients around you either at your workplace or at home, here are some tips for communicating with dementia patients:

  • Get Their Attention: 

If you want to know how to talk to someone with dementia, the first step is to get their attention. Since they have completely different states of mind, the surroundings should be kept free of distractions and noises. Try closing the curtains, turning off the music, radio, or TV, shutting the door, drawing the curtains, and creating a peaceful and calm environment.

Tell them your name and relation; try holding their hand or touching them to keep them focused. Maintain eye contact, sit if they are sitting or stand if they are standing. Make sure they hear you when you are trying to communicate with them.

  • Create a Positive Vibe:

Positive vibes always work well to give dementia patients the freedom to speak. Enhancing your mood and letting your body language be more welcoming and delightful help them open up to you. You can try smiling, keeping a friendly and low tone. Your attitude must sync with your feelings, thoughts, and emotions.

Positive Vibe

Try communicating with patients who have dementia as clearly as you can. Try to convey your affection to them so they can see the warmth in your emotions for them; this will be a soothing experience for your loved ones.

  • Pay Attention to Your Words and Message:

Talking to someone with dementia is really challenging. You must pay attention to the words and messages you are giving to them. Keeping your voice low and controlling your tone as a higher or louder voice can be annoying for dementia patients, and they might not be able to comprehend what you will say to them. Speak slowly so they can hear every single word clearly. Try using the exact names of people or places instead of abbreviations.

If you are asking them something, ask one question at a time. Try being specific with your questions, i.e. they should not be open-ended. If the dementia patient cannot understand what you are saying and ask, use visuals and props to understand you better.

  • Listen to them:

Listening is an art that most of us lack. However, if you want to learn how to communicate with dementia patients effectively, you need to train yourself to be an avid listener. Dementia patients have different thought processes than ours, and at the time, they will be unable to put their thoughts into the right words.

You need to listen to them attentively through your ears and your eyes and hearts. Your compassion and understanding will play a key role in letting you get their point. With a proper dementia diagnosis, try hearing their thoughts behind their words. Closely observe their body language and other nonverbal cues. Above all, be patient throughout the process!

  • Respond Rightly:

How to interact with someone with dementia is not something unanswerable. With a few essential tips, you can enjoy talking to your loved ones and make conversation enjoyable for them. People with any dementia signs and symptons are likely to get anxious, annoyed, and confused more. The slightest thing can make them lose their focus in discussions or doubt themselves.

Be kind to them while talking. Don’t try proving them wrong, or don’t ask them about things that they are forgetful about. Respond through nonverbal actions like hugging, kissing, or holding hands if you find them getting uncomfortable during the conversation.

  • Figure out what they can Recall and Remember:

While trying to figure out how to communicate with someone with dementia, you must know what they can recall and still remember. They might not know what happened 45 minutes ago, but they will surely be able to recall they’re good old days, memories that are still close to their heart and find precious.

Figure out what they can Recall and Remember

Therefore, avoid questions that are based on short-term memories. Once you get to know what the person likes talking about, you can easily take the conversation to a normal pace. Also, general questions also work best at times, such as what color you like or what food is your favorite.

  • Learn to Redirect or Change the Conversation:

Taking cues from the conversation is vital when learning how to communicate with dementia patients. You can see clear signs if the conversation is soothing or discomforting for them, whether they are enjoying what you are saying or are finding it annoying or making them confused.

Try to change the topic and redirect the discussion if you see anything unusual in their behavior. However, it would help if you made them feel heard and seen. Tell them you can see they are sad, take them for a walk to grab something to eat to cheer them up. If you are pondering upon how to talk to people with dementia, compassion and patience can help you understand it better.

When dealing with patients with dementia, one should also keep this mind that there are different stages of dementia disease, which means types of dementia. Alzheimer’s disease is the most common type of dementia. Every stage has its own challenge. For Senior care, usually, in-home caregivers are hired; choosing the right caregiver for this medical condition wisely is also your responsibility. Keeping in mind some points makes it very easy to deal with Dementia behaviors. Here are some things you can do to deal with Dementia behavior:

  • First, accept that dementia illness will progress with time. It will help to have patience with you.
  • Accept the fact that you cannot change or control the behavior of a person with dementia. Patients do not have control over how their brains are shaped in this disorder. So controlling their behavior results in resistance.
  • Dementia patients feel very hard to tell what they want or need, so try to understand their behavior. Also, notice what triggers their behavior so that these triggered actions can be avoided.

The Bottom Line:

Dementia is very common among aging adults. It can be our parents, elder siblings, or any other family member or friend that can fall prey to it. It might be hard for you to see them forgetting everything about not just you but themselves. If you manage to learn how to talk to dementia patients effectively, you can still enjoy their presence and make the time memorable for you both. There is always a way to reach the heart of your loved ones!

Tanner Gish

Tanner Gish (Certified Dementia Practitioner, CDP®) is president of Loving Homecare, chapter leader of the Foundation for Senior Services, and community educator on topics relating to home care, aging, dementia, and the relationship between adult children and their aging parents. He is also a Gallup certified Strengths Coach, and he loves empowering the Loving Homecare care team to overcome challenges and to build deeper relationships through Strengths-based coaching. He has his master’s degree in New Testament Theology and bachelor’s degree in International Business from Biola University. Tanner and his wife live in Historic Uptown Whittier, California where both love serving their community, escaping to Northern California to visit their families, and traveling to visit friends living and working overseas as much as possible.

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