How to Talk to Someone with Dementia

Chatting with someone with dementia can be a rewarding and heartwarming experience, but communicating with someone with dementia can also be challenging. Your parent or relative may frustrate you, or you may become upset by the changes you see in them. However, it is essential to maintain relationships and not isolate or stop talking to someone you love because of the condition. Read on to learn more about some simple yet important tips on how to talk to someone with dementia.

How Does Dementia Affect Communication?

A Dementia patient who cannot communicate

Dementia profoundly impacts communication with others, especially speech. As dementia is a progressive disorder, these effects will grow stronger over time. Your parent or loved one may struggle to express logical and rational ideas or maintain longer discussions. In addition, they may have difficulty understanding sarcasm, humour, tone of voice, and pronouncing words.

As a primary symptom of dementia, memory loss will also affect the ability to express oneself. The person may lose track of what they are talking about, repeat themselves, or need clarification about what you are talking about.

It is just as challenging to understand someone with dementia as it is to help them understand you. Knowing how your loved one’s condition affects them and how it will progress in the future is essential. Therefore, you can be prepared and communicate productively and positively.

Read Here: Best Home Phone for Dementia Patients

Communicating with Someone with Dementia

Senior woman reassuring a senior man looking confused

Having good communication can help people with dementia live well. As someone’s dementia progresses, knowing their needs, wishes, and emotions will become more challenging. However, the good news is that there are many ways you can support someone to communicate with you. Here are some great tips on how to talk to someone with dementia.

1. Keep It Simple

When you’re talking with a person with dementia, it’s very important to manage your expectations; for example, don’t expect to be able to discuss the news in-depth, this is likely to confuse and upset them, and it will probably bother you as well. Instead, talk about your everyday lives and surroundings.

2. Avoid Infantilizing the Person

Have you ever observed how people speak to babies? They may talk in a high-pitched tone and get close to the baby’s face. The practice is appropriate for infants but not for adults. Always use a respectful tone of voice no matter how much a person with dementia can or cannot understand.

3. Use Non-Verbal Communication

All people, not just those with dementia, use non-verbal communication to communicate with each other. As your loved one’s condition progresses, this will become increasingly important. You can feel connected even when it is challenging to talk by maintaining eye contact and using physical touch, such as holding hands. You can also understand their feelings through facial expressions and body language when they can’t express them verbally.

4. Refrain from Correcting Them

There will always be mistakes and forgetfulness when someone has dementia. Though it may seem tempting to keep correcting them, this won’t change their condition and may even upset them. In other words, it’s better to go with the flow rather than challenge them, and it’s important not to get angry when they make a mistake.

5. Be Patient, Not Patronizing

People with dementia can find it highly frustrating to be talked down to or treated patronizingly. Be calm and take deep breaths even if you have difficulty communicating with them. Communicate clearly and slowly, but avoid talking down to them. Be patient and attentive instead.

6. Use Their Names and Preferred Titles

Find out what the person’s preferred name is and use it. Do not use terms like “honey,” “sweetheart,” or similar ones. Although you may mean it sincerely, it can also be patronizing or demeaning.

7. Don’t Just Talk Loudly

People with dementia may not have hearing impairments, so using a loud tone may make them feel like you are yelling at them. Start a conversation with someone using a clear, everyday tone of voice.
You can increase your volume if the person does not respond or you discover that they have a hearing problem.

8. Don’t Use Slang or Figures of Speech

People with dementia may have difficulty understanding what you’re saying as their condition progresses. When you tell a loved one with Alzheimer’s disease, “it’s no use crying over spilled milk,” he might look to see where the milk spilled rather than be comforted or encouraged not to dwell on the past. One of the ways to screen for dementia symptoms is to administer a test that asks the test taker to interpret abstract concepts, such as spilled milk.

9. Don’t Ignore the Person

Before asking their family for an answer, give the individual a chance to respond to your question. Similarly, don’t talk about them as if they don’t exist. Address them directly so they know you respect them. They might understand more than you believe.

10. Position Yourself at Their Level

Instead of standing up straight and looking down at someone who may be seated, bend down to meet their level. You might feel less comfortable physically, but you’ll have a more comfortable and respectful conversation.

11. Avoid Interrogating

Ask only a few questions. You should encourage and provide encouragement during your visit rather than asking endless questions.

12. Smile and Make Eye Contact

Non-verbal communication can reassure someone with dementia, reducing the chance of challenging behaviours. You should smile and maintain eye contact when communicating with a dementia patient to show that you are glad to be there.

Tips on How to Talk to Someone with Dementia: Before You Communicate

talking to someone with dementia

Make sure the person is comfortable. Ensure you’re in a good place to communicate. It should be quiet and calm, with good lighting. It can be challenging for a person with dementia to concentrate in a busy environment, so turn off the TV or radio.
Take advantage of a time when the person seems to be able to communicate more clearly so you can ask any questions. Find ways to adapt on difficult days and make the most of ‘good’ days. Before you begin, make sure any other needs of the person are met – for instance, making sure they are not hungry or in pain.

Final Words

Alzheimer’s Research UK found that over one in five people (22%) would find it difficult to talk to someone with dementia. However, one positive side to this statistic is that most people know how to talk to someone with dementia. As dementia has become more prevalent and less taboo, people have a deeper understanding of the condition. Communicating with someone with dementia can be difficult. Still, the right strategies and the tips above can bridge the gap and foster a more fulfilling relationship between you and your patient or loved one.

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Source The Fremantle Trust Medic Alert Alzheimer's society
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