Understanding Dementia: Communication Strategies

When communicating with a loved one who has dementia, it is important to consider their specific cognitive circumstances. Each person will have unique symptoms and will need a tailored approach to communication. Dementia and other physical ailments can affect speech, hearing, thinking, memory, and focus on a range of severities. Thus, it is important to differentiate your strategy to hone in on what communication accommodations are necessary to meet their needs.

Check-In With Yourself First

  • People with dementia can be easily overwhelmed, so it is important that you are staying calm and collected when communicating.
  • Make sure to connect with yourself mentally and emotionally to ensure that you are emotionally available for them.
  • Having a positive mindset and welcoming body language can help keep them positive in the face of adversity, even if you are feeling negative it is important to stay strong and bring positivity to the situation.
  • Speak with intention, think about what you want to achieve and stay focused on that.
  • Self-care is critical, make sure you are taking care of yourself in order to avoid burnout and resentment. If you are feeling angry or overwhelmed then it is time to connect with a homecare company and hire private care to alleviate some strain.

Active Listening

  • ‘We have two ears and one mouth so that we can listen twice as much as we speak.’
  • Active listening is all about being in the moment and focused on what they are saying, and also trying to decode the meaning behind what they are saying.
  • People with dementia will have difficulty speaking their mind, so be patient and supportive while they are trying to communicate.
  • Allow them extra time for processing information and communicating their thoughts.
  • Use body language to show that you are actively listening and trying to understand.
  • Get affirmation for understanding, repeat what they said back to them to ensure clarity.

Communicating Together

  • Speak clearly and calmly.
  • Be aware of speed: speak low and slow and allow for extra processing time between statements.
  • Always speak in the positives: ‘Let’s do this’ rather than ‘Don’t do that’.
  • State solutions, not problems: ‘We are going grocery shopping’ rather than ‘When should we get more food?’
  • Be direct and clear, avoid confusing questions that may frustrate them.
  • Offer observation questions rather than quizzing questions: ‘This is a picture of a colorful boat, what do you think?’ rather than “Do you remember this vacation?’.
  • Provide clarity and focus: Identify yourself and use their name to allow for clear communication: “Hi Kathy, it’s Jen, your daughter.”
  • Offer choices that are simple and able to be answered in a yes or no.
  • Listen to what they are saying as well as the clues for what they mean.
  • Be sympathetic to their feelings and allow them time to speak and offer comfort.
  • Avoid criticizing: rephrase statements for clarity and positivity.
  • Avoid arguments: change the subject to avoid aggravation.

Communicating with a loved one with dementia can be emotionally challenging. It can be difficult to navigate such a sensitive time while ensuring the comfort and safety of your senior loved one. Balancing giving them a meaningful life with fulfilling connections and your emotional well-being can be a tightrope walk. Using communication strategies can greatly increase your quality of connection with your loved one and ease their daily struggles with communication. Bringing empathy and humor to your discussions can breathe life and joy back into your relationship. Being kind and compassionate can make a huge difference for any relationship, especially your relationship with your loved one with dementia.