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8 tips for communicating with someone with dementia

Diseases like Alzheimer’s and other forms of dementia affect a person’s ability to communicate. As time progresses, communication will become more and more challenging, and you may find yourself having to make changes in the way you communicate in order to stay in touch with the person.

For the person who is living with dementia, they will almost certainly change the way they communicate with you. These changes may be small at first, and hardly noticeable, but as time goes on they will become more defined and pronounced. For example, your loved one may:

  • Use familiar words repeatedly rather than looking for new ones
  • Have the inability to find the right words for a sentence
  • Forget the names of objects, and may describe what they look like instead
  • Struggle to order the words in a sentence correctly
  • Use hand or facial gestures in preference to speaking
  • Start to use a native language again
  • Avoid speaking at all
  • Lose their train of thought often

With all these changes, it’s important that you stay calm and patient with them. Your loved one is still the same person inside, they are just having trouble expressing themselves. Here are our top 8 tips to help your communications become more successful.

  1. Approach them in a positive manner: Even if you’re dreading their reaction, whether they’ll know who you are or be able to talk to you at all, set the positive tone for the conversation by approaching them in an upbeat manner with a smile on your face.
  2. Make sure their attention is on you: Take a moment to switch off the TV, radio and to close the door if there is noise coming from outside. If the person is sitting, you should get down to their level by sitting too, so that you can create eye contact.
  3. Speak normally: Don’t be tempted to raise your voice as this could be overwhelming. Speak normally and in a lower, reassuring tone. If they don’t understand, repeat yourself at the same level using the same words. Only if they still don’t understand what you’re saying should you change your words.
  4. Be specific and simple: Ask one question at a time. Stick to yes and no questions to start with, so you can gauge how they are feeling that day. ‘Do you want a coffee?’ or ‘Shall I open the curtains’ are examples of neutral questions that will help you get to know what sort of place your loved one is in today.
  5. Reminisce: People who are living with dementia may not remember what happened 30 minutes ago, but may have a clear recollection of what happened 30 years ago. Encourage them to reminisce by asking general questions about their past life, rather than trying to get them to recall what they had for lunch.
  6. Give them time: Allow the person plenty of time to process what you’ve said to them and to formulate a response. This might seem like a long, uncomfortable pause to you, but to them it’s just the time they need to put the right words together.
  7. Listen with your heart and eyes as well as your ears: Remember, this person may not be able to get the right words out. They might be feeling afraid, frustrated, confused. Look deeper into their responses than just the words that come out, and try to read body language to understand the real meaning in what they’re saying.
  8. Don’t stop trying: Don’t exclude your loved one from conversations because they have a dementia diagnosis. The disease affects different people in different ways and some days are better than others. Keep trying, keep being positive and stay calm even if the conversation is frustrating.

Here at Westgate, we offer specialist dementia care for people in all stages of living with this disease. We can help you learn to communicate with your loved one, and will work tirelessly to manage each stage of dementia and, where possible, to slow its progress. Talk to us about more ways to cope and stay connected when your loved one is living with dementia.

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