Tips for communicating with a Person with Dementia

Tips for communicating with a Person with Dementia

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Couple on park bench

Dementia can diminish a person’s ability to communicate clearly causing frustration for them, their family and friends. The team at Dementia Waikato have shared some communication tips for families and carers that they hope will be useful.

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Everyone is unique and different, so communication challenges with a family member or friend with Dementia will also vary. Everyone has feelings and emotions, even if they may not understand what is being said. It’s important to be flexible, calm and allow time so a person with dementia can maintain their dignity and self-esteem.  

“Positive communication can help a person with dementia maintain their dignity and self-esteem”
Better Health Channel – Australia 

Helpful communication tips – communicating with a person who has dementia

Make eye contact

  • Approach face to face and make eye contact
  • Use their name if you need to
  • It’s important that they see you and that their attention is focused on you
  • Read their eyes
  • Approach from the front, so not to startle them. 

Be at their level

Standing over them or hovering can be scary and intimidating, so crouch or sit down so you are at the same level as them. This will make it easier for them to focus on you and what you are saying.

Tell them what you are going to do before you do it

This is important, especially if you are going to touch them. They need to know what is coming first so they don’t think that you are grabbing them.

Speak calmly

Speak in a calm manner with an upbeat tone of voice, even if you don’t feel that way. They will often mirror your feeling back, amplified. Try to avoid being agitated or sounding angry.

Speak slowly

  • Speak at one half of your normal speed
  • Take a breath between each sentence
  • People with dementia may not process words as fast as others
  • Give them a chance to catch up to your words. 

Use short sentences

Speaking in short direct sentences with one idea is helpful as usually they can only focus on one idea at a time.

Only ask one question at a time

Let them answer it before you ask another question. You can ask who, what, where and when, but not why. Why is too complicated. They will try to answer, fail and get frustrated.

Avoid “remember”

A person with dementia can struggle to remember, so may feel that you are pointing out their short comings if they don’t ‘remember’. This can cause frustration, anger and/ or embarrassment. 

Turn negatives into positives

For example, say “Let’s go here” instead of “Don’t go there”. Be inclusive and don’t talk down to them as if they were a child. Respect the fact that they are an adult and treat them as such. 

Don’t argue with them

Instead, validate their feelings, by saying” I see that you are angry (sad, upset, etc…). It lets them know that they are not alone and then redirect them into another thought. For example, “It sounds like you miss your mother (husband, father, etc…). You love them very much, don’t you? Tell me about the time…” Then ask for one of their favourite stories
about that person. 

Communicating with someone that has moderate to severe dementia

Dementia inevitably gets worse with time. People with dementia will gradually have a more difficult time understanding others, as well as communicating in general. Its important to recognise what you are up against. Try the following suggestions:

  • Avoiding distractions – so your loved one can focus all their energy on the conversation
  • Speak calmly, clearly and naturally – avoid condescending or ‘babytalk’ voices
  • Use names – in your conversation instead of ‘he’ ‘she’. For example: “Hi, Grandma. It’s me, Jeff,” is to be preferred over, “Hi. It’s me”
  • Talk about one thing at a time – so they are not having to juggle multiple threads of conversation
  • Use non-verbal cues – such as eye contact and smiling helps put people at ease. When dementia is very advanced, nonverbal communication may be the only option available
  • Listen actively – if you don’t understand something your loved one is telling you, politely let them know
  • Don’t quibble – try not to correct every inaccurate statement that is made. It’s ok to let delusions and misstatements go
  • Be patient – by giving plenty of time for them to process what you have said. Keep calm and don’t let the frustration get the better of you

Know that there will be good days and bad days.

More Information about Dementia Waikato

Dementia Waikato is a charitable trust providing free services to support individuals with a dementia diagnosis, their families and care partners.
To contact the Coromandel Peninsula Dementia Advisor and for more information about Dementia Waikato see the related link below. 

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Related Links

Dementia Waikato

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