Forgetting their train of thought. Searching for words. Repeating themselves. Having difficulties articulating even simple phrases. Becoming confused in everyday interactions.
Communicating with a loved one who has dementia can be daunting.
Nevertheless, it is crucial for their quality of life to maintain a human connection and to keep communicating with them in whatever way possible.
Here’s how to go about it.
Dementia’s impact on communication
First, it’s important to understand how exactly dementia affects communication.
In general, the condition affects the brain’s left temporal lobe, which is the hub of many vital linguistic skills. For instance, it’s where most of the vocabulary we learn during adolescence and beyond is stored. As a result, many dementia patients resort to using child-like language when they communicate.
Furthermore, it’s crucial to keep in mind that dementia also affects other senses – including hearing and sight. This can cause additional obstacles to communication.
The effects of dementia on communication
Communication difficulties experienced by people with dementia vary from person to person. Dementia is caused by a variety of factors, each of which affects the brain differently.
Dementia patients may show the following changes:
They might be given a related word instead of the word they cannot remember if they have difficulty finding it
Talking in a way that makes no sense
Being unable to comprehend what you’re saying or grasping only a portion of it
Skills in reading and writing are declining
An increasing tendency to interrupt, ignore or fail to respond to a speaker is a loss of normal social conventions of conversation.
A person who is unable to express themselves appropriately in terms of their emotions.
How to talk to someone with dementia
One of the most important things to do when talking to someone with dementia is to take the first step. Many people know that their condition makes it frustrating for others to speak with them. As a result, they may be reluctant to strike up a conversation.
A great way to start is to pick a topic that you know they will love, and you can talk about it from the get-go.
When you do talk to them, speak slowly and clearly and keep your sentence structure simple. If you feel they haven’t heard or understood you, repeat yourself or rephrase what you said.
Wait for them to answer and give them enough time to speak. Don’t make the mistake of appearing impatient or interrupting them. You should acknowledge what they have said after they have responded and engage them further with what they have said.
Helping without words and cultivating the right habits
Besides talking to your loved ones, there are a variety of non-verbal things you can do in conversation that will help you put them at ease.
Be sure to maintain a relaxed and open body language and a warm voice. Maintain eye contact throughout your conversation, and don’t try to do anything else at the same time. If possible, sit down with them so that you’re at eye level.
Importantly, don’t become visibly aggravated or frustrated. If anything, this will have a negative impact on your interlocutor’s self-confidence and communication skills.
If the conversation does take an emotional toll on you, take a moment to breathe and center yourself.
Communicating with someone with dementia: What NOT to do
Whenever you communicate with a person with dementia, avoid doing the following:
- Getting into an argument with the individual will only make things worse
- Move the person around as you please
- Don’t tell the person what they cannot do – instead, tell them what they can do
- If you talk down to people, even if they don’t understand what you say, you may come across as condescending
- Ask direct, memory-evoking questions
- Don’t talk about people in front of them as though they don’t exist.
Dementia and validation therapy
In validation therapy, it is more positive to enter the person’s reality instead of trying to bring them back to ours. Developing empathy with the person this way leads to building trust and security. The result is an anxiety reduction.
The family and carers of someone with dementia who use validation would not argue the point or expect their relative to have insights into their behavior, for example, if the person with dementia believes she is waiting for her middle-aged children to get home from school. The person with dementia would not be corrected about his or her beliefs.
As an alternative, caregivers could validate the person’s feelings by empathizing with and acknowledging the person’s reaction to the situation. This is one way to maintain a sense of dignity and self-esteem in the case of dementia patients.
Dementia and Reminiscence
The act of reminiscing involves reviewing past events. Positive and rewarding activities like this are usually found here. People with dementia can still enjoy reminiscing even if they are unable to communicate verbally. In the case of an upset person, it can also serve as a distraction.
In addition to providing a sense of peace and happiness, reviewing past events can also evoke painful and sad memories. The person’s reaction must be taken into consideration if this occurs. When someone is experiencing anxiety, it is best to try to distract them with another activity if their distress is feeling overwhelming.
The bottom line
Communication can be one of the most challenging parts of caring for someone with dementia. The good news is that if you approach the problem in the right way, it’s not impossible.
Lifted, a London-based specialist dementia care provider, elaborates: “Remember to note other contributing details to what they are trying to say, such as their movement, and persevere until you understand the meaning of what they are saying. Start this observation from a place of knowing your loved one as well as you do. Lifted Carers are trained and experienced in reading these signals, and it is essential to have the same familiarity as a family member.”