Dementia and Communication

One of the most difficult, challenging aspects of dementia is the gradual decline in one’s ability to communicate. Just like signs of dementia develop, symptoms do too. Initially the person may seem able to converse and share stories quite well. Slowly as dementia symptoms progress, patients often find themselves stumbling to find locate a word or share a simple sentiment. Over time, trivial forgetfulness turns into severe mental impairment. Not only is the inability to effectively communicate difficult, but the ability to expressing emotion is very difficult for a person in any stage of dementia. Families have an especially hard time understanding how to care for and support their loved ones with dementia. Fortunately, there are some simple strategies to promote better communication.

    1. Focus on non-verbal cues: Body language, facial expressions and other bodily signals are oftentimes easier to read than spoken language. Pay attention to the body language you put forward. Focus on the person’s cues to understand better how they’re feeling.
    2. Set up the environment: A successful conversation is dependent on the right setting. Eliminate background noise or sights. Turn off the TV or radio and put away cell phones. Maintain good eye contact and an appropriate talking distance.
    3. Practice patience: Give your loved one extra time to process what you are saying. Don’t rush into a new topic of conversation, as this can cause confusion. Even if you don’t understand what they are saying, don’t be condescending or use harsh emotions. Let delusions and misstatements go.
    4. Each day is a new day: The general trend of dementia sufferers is a downward decline, but like everyone, they will have ups and downs. Just because one day they’re more fluid and expressive doesn’t mean the next day will be the same. Having an overall understanding of the challenges helps you accept and prepare for the wavering nature of the disease.
    5. Be encouraging: Always responding, no matter what, shows the person that they’ve been heard. If you find a topic they are more communicative about, take it a step further by asking them to tell you more.

Communicating with your loved one may be challenging, especially as the disease reaches more severe stages. It’s painful to see them change as their symptoms become more prominent. One of the best reminders is that the person can’t control what is happening to them. Reminding yourself what you’re up against helps you not take things so personally or be too hard on yourself. All you can do is be patient, understanding and supportive as it helps the person feel more safe and secure.