Communication Techniques to Connect with People who have Dementia

Posted by Senior Solutions Management Group on Jul 7, 2014 12:04:37 PM | 3 minute read

One primary symptom of dementia and its most common form, Alzheimer’s disease, is the gradual loss of communication ability. Dementia slowly damages communication centers within the brain; changes may include difficulty in maintaining a train of thought during conversation, finding the right words, frequent repetition, using the wrong words, talking less, or inventing new words.

Communication between two elderly friendsUltimately, a loved one who has dementia will need round-the-clock care, either at home or in a specialized memory care community staffed by experts in personalized dementia care and communication methods.

Communication is Key

It’s important for everyone interacting with a loved one who has dementia to learn new ways to communicate. Here are 15 tips from the Alzheimer’s Association.

  1. Don’t correct or criticize. This might be the most important tip for anyone dealing with dementia patients. Especially in early disease stages, it’s natural for a spouse or child to want to correct a verbal miscue. However, when you tell a loved one who has dementia that what they’ve said is incorrect, it only adds to their sense of anxiety and confusion.

  2. Redirect, don’t correct. When mom repeats the same story within a short time period, don’t complain that you just heard this story 5 minutes ago. Instead, use a technique followed by many memory care professionals. Redirect your loved one to a new topic or new activity.

  3. Speak slowly and calmly. Try to select simple, direct words and phrases.

  4. Never argue. When dad makes a statement you don’t agree with, don’t argue with him, as it will only heighten his agitation and anxiety level.

  5. Avoid interrupting. Doing so may cause people with dementia to lose their train of thought. Besides, didn’t your mom teach you that it’s rude to interrupt?

  6. Allow her to interrupt you. A loved one who has dementia is struggling to communicate, so when she talks, it’s a good thing; let mom interrupt you.

  7. Elderly couple holding hands on swingsBe patient and supportive. Listen and respond with compassion. Smile at dad even if you don’t fully understand what he’s saying. Put yourself in his shoes and treat him the way you’d like to be treated.

  8. Look for the feelings underlying the words. Mom might struggle to find the right word, but the feelings that she’s attempting to express could be significant. Maybe she’s in pain, so listen for her tone of voice and observe facial cues.

  9. Identify yourself. It’s sad, but true. There will likely come a time when your loved one doesn’t recognize you. When you see dad or mom, say your name.

  10. Make eye contact. Speak to your loved one at eye level and keep eye contact steady. People with dementia still pick up non-verbal cues and our eyes are part of our communication language.

  11.  Allow time for response. In today’s digital age, we expect instant communication. Set aside this notion, and allow time for your loved one to respond.

  12. Encourage non-verbal communication. All behaviors are a form of communication, so find new ways to talk to your loved one who has dementia, such as pointing or facial gestures.

  13. Limit distractions. Talk to mom in a quiet spot; turn down the TV or radio.

  14. Use direct and clear statements. Don’t use vague words to describe something. For example, say, “here is your water,” not “here it is.”

  15. Speak in a comforting tone. Help put your loved one at ease by speaking in tones that comfort and relax.

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