Caregiving 101: How to Better Communicate With Someone With Dementia

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If your mother, father, grandparent, or other loved one has slipped into the mental deterioration caused by Alzheimer’s disease and other forms of dementia, the changes can be painful to watch. As minor forgetfulness morphs into severe impairment, it is important that you understand how to communicate with your loved one. It can be very tempting to let your emotions take over and utter phrases like “I already told you!” and “Why would you think that?” Instead, use these tips to support healthy and constructive communication with your loved one with dementia.

Know What to Expect

By establishing realistic expectations of your loved one’s communication skills and overall ability level, you can set your conversation up for success. You should know what problems will present themselves at various stages of dementia. Your loved one will most likely struggle to find the right words, so he will use familiar, easy words repeatedly. He will also frequently lose his train of thought, struggle to organize words logically, and rely on gestures more than speaking. If you are prepared for these changes, you can focus on adjusting your communication methods appropriately rather than reeling in surprise and sadness.

Focus on Abilities, Not Limitations

It’s true that dementia changes the abilities of your loved one to communicate, but focusing on those limitations will not help the situation. Instead, do your best to emphasize the abilities that your love one still maintains. Consider utilizing art, music, and gestures to enhance communication with your loved one with dementia. By maintaining eye contact, smiling, and using other nonverbal cues, you can put your loved one at ease and facilitate understanding.

Stick to One Topic At a Time

Even without dementia, skipping from one topic to another in a conversation can feel overwhelming and confusing. For your loved one with dementia, topic-hopping makes understanding virtually impossible. Any person with dementia cannot engage in the mental juggling act required in changing topics. To keep lines of communication running smoothly, focus on one topic at a time and make all topic changes clear and purposeful.

With a bit of patience, positivity, and persistence, you can still enjoy constructive communication with your loved one with dementia. Regardless of their ability to verbalize their thoughts and memories, all people with dementia are unique individuals.