It’s hard to live with someone that has dementia. It can be difficult not to become upset with the disturbed communication and the emotions that the person will be feeling which may not be relevant to the reality. It can make family and caregivers feel stressed, anxious, irritated and utterly helpless.
Everyone’s experience of the disease is different but repeating stories, not being able to think of the right words, losing track of thoughts, losing their way or forgetting where the rooms around them are situated, speaking less or speaking in another language are not uncommon.
However, even though the person affected by dementia may not be able to clearly express it, they often still experiencing feelings and emotions that can confuse and upset them deeply.
Here are 10 tips on how to effectively communicate with someone who has moderate to severe dementia.
- Dementia worsens progressively. People with dementia find it difficult to make sense of others and therefore communicating effectively. It is crucial to show empathy, patience and understanding.
- Avoid distractions and noise. Speak in a normal tone of voice at a normal volume. In order to be able to share moments that matter, a quiet environment will enable the person with dementia to focus their mental energy. It’ll also assist them in staying calm.
- Refrain from ‘babytalk’ or speaking in frustrated and agitated ways. Avoid criticising or correcting, and repeat what they said if something needs to be clarified.
- Refer to people by their names. For example: “Hi Dad. It’s me, Louise” rather than “Hi. It’s me” or assuming that they already know the names of the people around them.
- Keep conversation simple. Over complicating it by going off at tangents will only upset them because they will rapidly become confused and tired. You’ll need to ensure you have enough time to spend with them, if you feel rushed or stressed, so will they. Take some time to calm down.
- Body language is important. Stay calm and smile. Position yourself where the person can see you as clearly as possible, sitting rather than standing over them. When dementia becomes is very advanced, nonverbal communication may be the only option available and people with Alzheimer’s can understand kind touch, laughter and smiles. How you say something is often more important than what you say. Focus on feelings rather than facts.
- It is very likely that your loved one will be ‘stuck in the past’ during conversation; a scenario from their days as a youngster, or something that happened last week. They are unaware of the time difference at that moment so don’t try to correct them. Instead, listen, don’t argue. They’ll be far happier chatting away and reminiscing is really important.
- Don’t be personally offended if the person who has dementia uses bad or aggressive language or becomes paranoid or accusatory – it is so upsetting. But remember that deep down they’re not feeling or understanding what they are doing.
- Understand there will be good days and bad days. Moments when they have clarity and moments when their mind is muddied. Make the most of ‘good’ days and find ways to adapt on ‘bad’ ones.
- Do not talk about your loved one like they are not in the room. Always assume he or she can understand what you are saying and include the person in conversations with others. It helps to keep their sense of identity and feel they are valued, reducing feelings of isolation.
Places to Access Help
Alzheimers Society: www.alzheimers.org.uk
Dementia UK: www.dementiauk.org
Dementia Support: www.dementia-support.org.uk