For all of us, not just someone with dementia, the ability to communicate and express our needs is of utmost importance. In order for someone with dementia to have a good relationship with a care partner, healthy and frequent communication is a key ingredient. If your loved one with dementia begins to lose social skills, he or she might become more withdrawn or isolated. As the person without dementia, you are the one capable of understanding and changing your approach when it comes to communication. If your loved one with dementia is having increased difficulty communicating, capitalize on what skills remain to compensate for any lost abilities. Think about what has changed and what is preserved.
Below are some simple strategies to help encourage communication and connect with your loved one with dementia more effectively:
Always speak respectfully using adult language. As a professional care partner, refrain from using childlike speech and always treat a person with dementia as an adult. There are other ways to convey affection without disparaging the person with dementia. Smile, address the person by name, and shake his or her hand instead.
Keep the pitch of your voice low. Sometimes when a person doesn’t immediately understand, we have a habit of speaking louder to get our point across. Raising your voice only distorts speech and will more often than not upset the person being spoken to. To keep communication from getting difficult, speak in a warm, friendly manner.
Be aware of body and facial gestures and expressions. People with dementia pay attention to nonverbal messages of all kinds. Use these effectively to further encourage communication. The opposite is also true. As a care partner, pay attention to your partner’s body and facial gestures as well. Their nonverbal messages will communicate what they are not able to communicate verbally. In addition, eye to eye contact represents that their attention is focused on you.
Keep the conversation going. When speaking to someone with dementia, it is up to you to keep the conversation going. Introduce topics that he or she is familiar with or enjoys to talk about. Do not worry about their responses, just be happy to engage with them.
Do not ignore rambling. Remember that rambling speech is a form of communication too. Even if it seems like gibberish, listen for key words and pay attention to any form of nonverbal communication.
Avoid arguing, quizzing, or confronting. Having conversations that include these types of communication will often make the person angry or confused. Accept person with dementia’s values, beliefs, and reality. Doing so will reduce negative communication.
Use a prompt to get the conversation going. A prompt as simple as eye contact or saying the person’s name is an easy way to get their attention. When giving an instruction, be very specific and demonstrate exactly what you would like the person to do.
By combining all of these strategies, your loved one with dementia will want to participate in conversations more and as a result be a happier individual.
© Jennifer Brush, may not be reprinted or distributed without permission