Engaging in conversation with a loved one who has dementia can often leave you feeling powerless or impossible. Depending on the stages of the disease the person you once knew might feel like they’re no longer there. Although you might feel like it’s impossible to communicate with your loved one, remember that although there might be challenges preventing them from carrying on the same conversations you once were able to, they are still the same person you’ve always loved and continuing to provide them the same love and devotion is crucial for their well-being. Here are some ways to effectively communicate with a loved one living with dementia:
Research and learn more about dementia, the stages, the progression, and try to consider how and when certain communication practices should be implemented. For example, in the earlier stages of dementia, your loved one might still be able to provide some dialogue, however, as the disease progresses, know that they might eventually be unable to do so. Simply being aware and prepared ahead of time is important.
When you’re trying to talk with a loved one living with dementia, it’s important to make sure that there aren’t any distractions such as noise, movement (TV, kids running around, pets) and avoid multi-tasking while communicating with them. This will give them the opportunity to focus their mental energy on the conversation rather than anything else potentially distracting.
Speak Clearly and Calmly
Practice speaking clearly, slowly and calmly. Despite how you might be feeling internally, it’s important to remain calm while talking with your loved one to avoid any upset or mental unrest. Avoid raising your pitch or yelling and keep your tone natural. Remember if you start feeling emotions that might affect your tone or pace, it’s always okay to pause and recollect yourself. If you need to step outside the room, ensure there’s someone available to monitor the safety of your loved one.
Avoid pronouns in conversation (he, she, they, etc.). Using names when speaking with your loved one will help them understand who you are talking about, including yourself. For example, you might like to greet them with a phrase like, “Hi Joan. It’s me, Patrick.”
Keep it Simple
Try to keep the conversation linear. Avoid the potential to include multiple avenues of information that might cause your loved one to feel confused or lost. Stick with topics that are clear, concise and easy to follow.
Use Nonverbal Communication
Eye contact and smiling are great ways to use nonverbal communication especially if the dementia is very advanced. Depending on the level of advancement, this might be the only option available for communicating with your loved one.
Clarification is OK
If your loved one doesn’t understand what you’re saying and asks for clarification, it’s okay to try to explain it further. It’s also okay to tell your loved one that you don’t understand something they might be telling you. Just politely and patiently let them know. Practice active listening and kind clarification efforts.
It can be difficult to carry on conversations if you try to correct every inaccurate statement. It’s okay to let inaccurate statements or delusions go.
Patience is Key
Practicing patience and avoiding frustration is important on your end, but it’s equally as important for you to give your loved one some time to process or understand what it is that you’re saying too.
Don’t Give Up
There will be good days and difficult days for the both of you. Knowing as much as you can about dementia and how to interact with someone living with dementia will be helpful. Remember that they are people just like you and me and compassion and understanding is an important part of this new life experience.