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How to Talk to Someone with Dementia

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Communicating with an individual who suffers from dementia or Alzheimer’s can be challenging. As the illness progresses, communication becomes increasingly difficult as they struggle to remember ideas, articulate their thoughts, and manage their emotions. 

Despite these struggles, it’s incredibly important to continue to communicate with these individuals, as those relationships help promote better self-esteem, sense of identity, and overall quality of life.

Here are a few ways you can talk to someone with dementia: 

Get Their Attention

Before you initiate a conversation with someone who suffers from dementia, be sure to eliminate any distractions. The illness makes it difficult for your loved one to focus at times, so any additional commotion should be avoided if possible. 

Find a quiet, well-lit space to spend time with your elderly loved one so that they aren’t distracted by other sounds, traffic, or shadows. Try to sit close to the person, at their level, and make eye contact. This will eliminate any confusion and help prompt a positive experience for you both.

Be Clear 

Sometimes, we confuse speaking clearly with speaking loudly. When it comes to communicating with an individual who suffers from dementia, this distinction needs to be understood and respected. Avoid raising your voice or using a sharp tone, as it can make your loved one feel anxious or intimidated.

Instead, speak calmly and at a slightly slower pace than normal. Allow some time between sentences to give them time to absorb and reflect on the information you’ve provided. 

Ask Simple Questions

A person with dementia can be easily overwhelmed and confused, so it’s best to avoid asking complicated or open-ended questions. Similarly, if you ask too many questions at once, it will start to feel more like an interrogation than it does a conversation, and your loved one will struggle to engage with you. 

Stick to one concept, idea, or question at a time. For example, let’s compare two scenarios:

Would you like to have sandwiches for lunch and pudding for dessert with me out in the courtyard today?” 

You can imagine how confusing that might be, even for fully-functional adults like you and I. Instead, try this strategy: 

You: Would you like to have lunch in the courtyard today?

Them: Yes, I would.

You: Should we have sandwiches?

Them: Yes, please

You: And pudding for dessert

Them: Sure

Notice how the exchange provides one question at a time, with ample time to consider the option and respond. This is an ideal conversation for an adult who struggles with the effects of dementia.

Consider Nonverbal Cues

Although someone may not be able to communicate with words, it’s important to consider their body language, gestures, and facial expressions as well. 

They may struggle to speak, but these other factors can give you a good indication of how they’re feeling and, as a result, how you can behave in return. Similarly, your loved one might have trouble understanding your verbal cues, but they’ll likely pick up on your body language. Be sure your physical behavior and facial expressions match what you’re trying to express. 

At Kaplan Development Group, we work hard to create and foster compassionate and loving communities for the individuals in our care. For more information on our assisted living homes, reach out at 516 496-1505 or contact us online.

Written by kaplan

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