Let’s face it, communicating with a loved one with dementia can be a challenge. Depending on the severity of their symptoms, it could range anywhere from slightly different than normal, to nearly impossible. However, there are strategies you can employ to facilitate communicating with your loved one.
The key is adjusting your own speech to work with their symptoms.
Play to their strengths
No matter what stage of dementia your loved one may be in, they still have some level of cognitive abilities. The best way to facilitate conversation is to talk about subject matter they understand and in a way that they understand. Generally, this means avoiding discussion of recent events and focusing on long-term memories that you know your loved one still remembers.
Avoid subject matter they find distressing
As you spend time with your loved one, you might notice certain problem topics. As an example, if your loved one loses time often and thinks it’s a different year, you may want to avoid anything that contradicts this reality they live in.
Use grounding language
Your loved one may find himself or herself a bit confused about who people are, who you are, or even who they themselves are. Locations, times of the year, etc. might also be unclear to them. The key is that your language needs to be in sync with their reality, not vice-versa. This will help ground the conversation and typically make for smoother communication.
Keep things positive
After a while, you may find that you’re giving your loved one many directions about what to do and what not to do. With dementia you may find your interactions will be increasingly like that. But you can make a choice to keep the conversation positive through it all. For example, if your loved one does something you believe they should not be, it’s unlikely you can teach them to do otherwise. Instead, find a replacement activity they can do so that instead of telling them “No” all the time, you can simply direct them toward the alternative.
Speak simply, but treat them like an adult
To be understood, you’ll have to simplify your speech, possibly speak more slowly, etc. But always remember that your loved one is not a child, and are capable of much more emotional complexity. Treat them accordingly.
Use nonverbal communication to your advantage
It’s well-known that what we physically say is just a small part of overall communication. The rest is nonverbal. Make it a point to set your loved one at ease by speaking softly, having a smile on your face, using consistent eye contact, and some physical contact to express closeness.
If you need some help figuring out how your loved one is doing overall, we suggest taking our 5 Minute Home Care Quiz, which will help you score your loved one’s well-being on 6 different parameters!