Dementia can be very confusing to loved ones and caregivers. Communication doesn’t have to be a struggle with these 8 Dementia Tips – on How To Communicate. It’s never a one size fits all. Communicating with a person with dementia wither its:
- Alzheimer’s disease
- Vascular dementia
- Dementia with Lewy bodies (DLB)
- Mixed dementia
- Parkinson’s disease
- Frontotemporal dementia
It’s often a challenging task, especially in the mid to late stages of dementia. With a little patience, okay lots of patience, love, and education you can learn how to make this process a little easier for both you and those you take care of.
8 tips on how to communicate with someone who has dementia
Consider using a gentle touch – a soft touch to the hand, arm or hand can reassure them and make them feel safe.
Avoid distractions. Make sure you have a quiet place with the television turned down or any other distractions that might impact your conversation.
Speak clearly and naturally in a warm and calm voice. Don’t use “elder speak” kind of like how you speak to infant and possibly pets, with the high pitched tone. Speak to the person with honor and respect.
Sit close but not in their personal space so you can have good eye contact. Never talk above them.
Refer to people by their names. By using names regularly, this will help the person remember the names of who they are conversing at that moment. In the mid to late stages of dementia, they may not recognize you, but that’s okay. Don’t pressure them with names, they know who you are, they can’t say the words. They are possibly in a different time or era than you are at that moment. Remember it is the love they feel for you that matters, not the name that is verbalized.
A Personal story from me on Mothers Day:
The most heart-wrenching story I heard on mothers day is when I was going to church. A radio personality confessed on the radio that his mom had Alzheimer’s and he couldn’t bear to see his mom like this, so he never visits her anymore. That was so very sad to hear. I wish I could tell him she does remember you, she just can’t say it in words. They always remember the love they feel, that will always be there.
Talk about one thing at a time. It gets very confusing when you go from topic to topic; their brains can’t work that fast. Take your time and be sensitive if it takes a minute for them to catch up to what you’re saying.
Use nonverbal cues. When you notice them looking around when you are talking to them, sometimes they want to say something, but they are just trying to find the words. First, ask them if they are hungry or in pain. Many of the best conversations with my clients have been when we were in the kitchen or the dining room eating. Food and a good conversation go hand in hand. Next, if they are squirming around in their chair, they most likely have to use the bathroom.
Listen actively. – Make sure your body language is opened and relaxed. Be engaged in the conversation by demonstrating concern. Use brief verbal affirmations like “I see,” “I know,” “Sure,” “Thank you,” or “I understand.”
Do you have any dementia communication tips to add?
Please let me know; I would be happy to add it to the list. If you have children or grandchildren that you would like to explain dementia in a fun way check out: Dementia Books For Children.
Do you have any dementia tips to share? Read this Life Story and be inspired by how this caring son knew that his mom recognized him and he knew that she loved him. However, because of her dementia, she thought it was a different year. And, in that year, he would’ve been a teenager.
Here is a great story that I found and a fantastic communication tip about when the person with dementia doesn’t know your name from dementia by day.
Here’s my absolute favorite story about what I call, “Timeline Confusion”:
Alicia danced down the hallway, both hands steadily on her walker. She moved her hips from side to side, singing a little song, and smiled at everyone she passed. Her son, Nick, was walking next to her.
Nick was probably one of the best caregivers I’d ever met. It wasn’t just that he visited his mother often, it was how he visited her. He was patient and kind—really, he just understood dementia care. He got it.
Alicia was what I like to call, “pleasantly confused.” She thought it was a different year than it was, liked to sing and dance, and generally enjoyed her life.
One day, I approached the pair as they walked quietly down the hall. Alicia smiled and nodded at everyone she passed, sometimes whispering a, “How do you do!”
“Hey, Alicia,” I said. “We’re having a piano player come in to sing and play music for us. Would you like to come listen?”
“Ah, yes!” she smiled back. “My husband is a great singer,” she said, motioning to her son.
Nick smiled and did not correct her. He put his hand gently on her shoulder and said to me, “We’ll be over there soon.”
I saw Nick again a few minutes later while his mom was occupied with some other residents. “Nick,” I said. “Does your mom usually think that you’re her husband?”
Nick said something that I’ll never forget.
“Sometimes I’m me, sometimes I’m my brother, sometimes I’m my dad, and sometimes I’m just a friend. But she always knows that she loves me,” he smiled.
Nick had nailed it. He understood that, because his mom thought it was 1960, she would have trouble placing him on a timeline.
He knew that his mom recognized him and he knew that she loved him. However, because of her dementia, she thought it was a different year. And, in that year, he would’ve been a teenager.
Using context clues (however mixed up the clues were) Alicia had determined that Nick was her husband: he was the right age, he sure sounded and looked like her husband, and she believed that her son was a young man.
This is the concept that I like to call timeline confusion. It’s not that your loved one doesn’t recognize you, it’s that they can’t place you on a timeline.
What matters is how they feel about you. Not your name or your exact identity. -Rachael Wonderlin