For those living with Dementia, communication can become a challenging task. Where would be without the art of communication? It’s vital to our very existence – no matter who we are, how young or old we are, or how we live our daily lives. It’s how we express ourselves and how we relate to those around us – but it’s more than just talking and listening….it’s reading body language, communicating through touch and facial expressions…understanding and interpreting.
We communicate with everyone around us in some form or another; from the tiniest baby who has a lifetime of experiences ahead, to the oldest and most wise members of our community who have seen and done it all.
We often change how we communicate depending on someone’s age, and we’ve developed ways to communicate with those who can’t hear, or who have learning disabilities, or those who perhaps aren’t able to pick up on the more subtle signals of facial expressions and tone of voice… In other words, as a society we tailor the way we communicate with someone based on their specific needs.
But what about those who are living with dementia? How does the disease affect the way they communicate? And how can we communicate with them more effectively?
The Effects Of Dementia On Communication
Dementia is a progressive condition that over time will affect how someone expresses themselves and how they understand others.
It can be hard for someone who lives with dementia to maintain relationships over time – even family members or friends they’ve known for many years – as it becomes harder to communicate effectively with them, especially if their speech becomes affected.
Common changes that can occur in someone who has dementia include:
Talking less than usual
Having difficulty finding the right words
Forgetting certain words
Creating new words to replace forgotten words
Swearing or using offensive language
Repeating a word or phrase
People who live with the condition will have ‘good’ days and ‘bad’ days where communication will be easier or more difficult for them.
There are many factors that this depends on; the stage of dementia, stress levels, how well rested they are, and other medical conditions.
So, if someone in your life has dementia how can you learn to understand each other better?
Learning as much as you can about the disease, how it progresses and how it affects individuals can be invaluable when it comes to maintaining a relationship and communicating with someone who has dementia.
The key to keeping relationships positive is for communication to be ongoing, respectful and sensitive. As your loved one’s abilities change you’ll need to pay more attention to non-verbal clues such as body languages just as much as you do to verbal clues.
It’s important to believe that communication is possible at ALL stages of dementia.
Every movement, word, sound, or behaviour has meaning, so never lose sight of the person – they are constantly communicating with you even if it’s without words.
Instead of getting frustrated at what your loved one can no longer do, focus more on their abilities and skills.
This becomes all the more important if they are no longer able to communicate with you verbally. If their speech has become hard to understand you can use your knowledge of that person to help you interpret what they are trying to say.
You could try communicating with them through the music that they love, activities they enjoy or through art.
Staying upbeat is easier said than done if you are caring for someone with dementia; particularly in the later stages of the illness.
It can be incredibly hard watching someone you love become someone else right before your very eyes, but positive things like laughter and humour can help get you both through the most difficult times.
Create a sense of comfort and reassurance for your loved one by using things that are familiar to them – their belongings, familiar surroundings, pictures of people and places from their past etc. This might help you to open up a dialogue and encourage them to communicate more.
As hard as it will be, as your loved one’s perception of reality changes, you will have to accept that new reality and try not to react negatively. Avoid contradicting them or telling them that what they believe isn’t true.
Tips For Communicating With Someone Who Lives With Dementia
The main thing to remember here is – ‘Connect, don’t Correct’!
There are going to be times when someone who is living with dementia becomes confused and may use the wrong words or not remember things correctly. It’s important to learn effective ways to communicate with your loved one rather than becoming frustrated and jumping in to correct what they’re saying or hurrying them along.
It takes practice and patience to communicate with someone who has dementia – it’s not a skill you will learn overnight.
Care In Kent has put together a list of tips that can help you master communicating with someone who is living with any stage of dementia.
Before speaking to someone with dementia
It might help to introduce yourself and remind them who you are – especially if they are having difficulty recognising family and friends.
Make eye contact
Use the person’s name when addressing them
If the person uses a hearing aid, make sure it is working
Reduce distractions (turn the TV/radio down)
How to speak to someone with dementia
Speak clearly and slowly
Use short, simple sentences
Be close enough so that they can see your facial expressions and hand gestures clearly
Use closed-ended questions that require a simple ‘yes’ or ‘no’ answer
Show respect and patience – don’t use childish or demeaning language
Don’t talk about the person as if they’re not there
Include them in conversations with others
How to listen to someone with dementia
Listen carefully to what they are saying
Notice verbal and non-verbal communications
Be patient and try not to interrupt – even if you think you know what they’re trying to say to you
If they are struggling to find the right word, you can offer a guess IF they appear they want help
Make the conversation a two-way process; engage the person and involve them
Don’t make assumptions! If you don’t understand what is said, check with them to see if you have understood what they mean
Ways to communicate with someone who is living with dementia
Humor can be a great stress-reliever that can bring you closer together. Laughing over mistakes and misunderstandings together can be almost therapeutic and will relieve any tension that surrounds the situation.
Encourage your loved one to express their feelings – especially if they seem down. Provide reassurance that you are there to listen and understand.
Use actions as well as words! You can use objects to illustrate what you mean – for example holding up a coffee up while asking if they’d like a cuppa, or giving their jacket when it’s time to go out.
Use body movements such as pointing or demonstrating an action to help someone with dementia to understand what you’re saying.
At Care In Kent, we specialize in all aspects of caring for those who live with dementia. If you need extra support in caring for a loved one who is living with the condition, please give a member of our dedicated team a call.