People with dementia can often find it challenging to communicate. They may face difficulties in finding the right words to say or in maintaining their train of thought. They also may even speak less often. As a result, they may lose confidence, become frustrated and/or feel depressed, isolated or withdrawn.
For the caregiver, specific verbal communication skills and techniques can be learned to help prevent these feelings for someone with dementia.
Here are some helpful tips for caregivers to keep in mind:
- Speak Clearly & Calmly. When talking to your loved one, speak clearly and calmly and at a slightly slower pace. Try to use short, simple sentences to explain actions. Avoid speaking sharply or raising your voice; tone is the second strongest form of communication.
- Allow time between your sentences so that your loved one can process the information and respond to your statement or question. Also, avoid asking question after question. In addition, it is typically more effective to ask close-ended questions, which can be answered with a “yes” or “no” response. Some examples include:
- Does your breakfast taste good?
- Do you want to watch television?
- Would you like to go for a walk?
- Avoid Arguing. If your loved one becomes agitated or upset, avoid arguments or power struggles and try redirecting the conversation. To prevent a possible argument, avoid telling your loved one that he or she is incorrect. Try to find the meaning in what was said and work to get a clarification by repeating the statement. It can also be helpful to connect with your loved one on a compassionate level.
- Validate your loved one’s feelings with a positive spin. For example, “I am so sorry I did not put enough milk in your coffee. Let me make a fresh cup for you and then we can sit and chat.” If you change the subject without validating your loved one’s feelings, he or she may feel that you are discounting his or her opinion.
- Keep it Positive. A person living with dementia is unsure of how to do things and frequently second-guessing themselves. Keep it positive. Try saying things like, “Nice work.” and “That’s the way to do it!” These affirming phrases may help your loved one relax and thrive. Let him or her know they are on the right track and if they are not, a gentle cue in the right direction may be all that is needed.
- Along the same line as staying positive, responding with affection can go a long way in your communication. Some empathetic statements to consider include, “I’d be upset too if that happened to me” or “I understand why you would feel that way.”
- Take a Look Back. While it may be challenging for your loved one to recall things in the short-term, some people with dementia can clearly remember their lives decades earlier. To help facilitate positive conversation, it can be helpful to ask questions about your loved one’s childhood, for example. You could also pull out old pictures of family and friends to reminisce.
Along with being aware of these specific tips, think about your surroundings. Taking steps to reduce background noise can help a person with dementia stay focused. Any noise or other interruptions can have a negative impact on the conversation. Being in a quiet place with no distractions can significantly help the flow of conversation between you and your loved one.