Dementia is a set of conditions, which can be caused by a variety of known neurodegenerative diseases* (and some still-yet-unknown triggers) which progress over time, and will likely affect a person's ability to remember and understand basic facts, such as names, dates and places. Aside from that, it may gradually affect the way a person communicates as well. His or her ability to present rational ideas and to reason clearly could change, and it is up to those surrounding their affected loved one to modify their ways of communication to reach out and still have a connection.
If you are a caregiver to person with Dementia, you may find that as the illness progresses, you'll have to start discussions to get the person to make conversation. This is common. The person’s ability to process information gets progressively weaker and responses can become delayed.
Encouraging someone with Dementia to communicate
Try to start conversations with the person you're looking after, especially if you notice that the person with Dementia is starting fewer conversations on his or her own.
Ways to encourage communication include:
- Speaking clearly and slowly, using short sentences.
- Making eye contact with the person when talking, asking questions or having other conversations.
- Giving the person time to respond, because he or she may feel pressured if you try to speed up answers.
- Encouraging the person to join in conversations with others, where possible.
- Letting them speak for themselves during discussions about their welfare or health issues, as they may not speak up for themselves in other situations.
- Trying not patronize, or ridiculing what he or she says.
- Acknowledging what is said, even if your question has not been answered, or what is said seems out of context – show that you've heard the person and encourage the person with Dementia to say more.
- Giving the person simple choices when conversing.
- Using other ways to communicate – such as rephrasing questions because the affected person can't answer in the way he or she used to.
Communicating through body language and physical contact
Communication isn't just talking. Gestures, movement and facial expressions can all convey meaning or help you get a message across. Body language and physical contact become significant when speech is difficult for a person with Dementia.
Communicating when someone has difficulty speaking or understanding can be made easier by:
- Being patient and remaining calm, which can help the person with Dementia communicate more easily.
- Keeping the tone of voice positive and friendly, where possible.
- Talking to the person at a respectful distance to avoid intimidation – being at the same level or lower can also help.
- Patting or holding the person’s hand can provide reassurance and make you feel closer, but watch the person’s body language to make sure the person with Dementia is comfortable with you doing this.
Listening to and understanding someone with Dementia
Communication is a two-way process. As a caregiver of someone with Dementia, you will probably have to learn to “listen” more carefully. You may need to be more aware of non-verbal messages, such as facial expressions and body language. You may have to use more physical contact, such as reassuring pats on the arm, or smiles, as well as speaking.
When communicating with someone with Dementia, “active listening” skills can help. These include:
- Using eye contact to look at the person, and encouraging that person to look back at you.
- Trying not to interrupt the affected person, even if you think you know what that person is saying.
- Stopping what you’re doing so you can give the person your full attention while he or she is speaking.
- Minimizing distractions that may get in the way of communication, such as the TV or radio playing too loudly.
- Repeating what you heard back to the person and asking if it’s accurate.
- “Listening” in a different way – shaking your head, turning away or murmuring are alternative ways of saying no or expressing disapproval.
It’s important to encourage the person with Dementia to communicate wants and needs – however he or she can. Remember, we all find it frustrating when we can’t communicate effectively, or are misunderstood.
*More common diseases which have been identified: Alzheimer's, Vascular Dementia, Lewy Body Dementia, Frontemporal Dementia, Chronic Traumatic Encephalopathy, among many others.
Source: This article was provided by the UK National Health Service (NHS), revised December 2017. All rights reserved.