When caring for a loved one with Dementia, the challenges of communication can be both frustrating and distressing. A person suffering from Dementia will display not only memory loss, but difficulty in forming and expressing their thoughts and feelings, and we, in turn, may struggle to understand what they are trying to share with us. While these challenges are not easy to navigate, we can take some steps to make communication a little easier and a little less stressful for everyone involved.
Create A Good Environment
When you wish to initiate a conversation, try to minimise distractions by turning down the radio, muting the television or asking other family members to try to pause their conversations whenever you interact. Make sure you position yourself on the same level as the person you are speaking with and use their name or a light touch to draw their attention to you.
Be Mindful For A Positive Interaction
Be aware of your body language, making sure that your posture is relaxed and open and you are smiling. Speak slowly but in a normal tone and rhythm. Avoid speaking down to your loved one in a condescending way. Choose simple vocabulary and use familiar names of things and people throughout the conversation rather than “he”, “she” and “it”. For example rather than “Is it too hot?” ask “Is the tea too hot?” Avoid figures of speech that may be more difficult for your loved one to grasp.
Use Simple Questions
By simply choosing how we frame questions we can make them much easier to process. We can ask in a way that offers a small choice of one-word answers, or only requires a “yes” or “no” response. For example rather than “What would you like in your sandwich?” we can ask “Would you like cheese or ham in your sandwich?” Whatever we say, it is better to be brief as longer dialogues can be much harder to follow and retain.
When we rush our loved one or try to complete their sentences for them, this can make them feel anxious which in turn makes it even harder for them to process and form ideas. Instead, if we take a deep breath, slow down and be present at the moment with them, we are able to observe so much more of what they are trying to tell us. It might take time for your loved one to find the right words to express themselves, but you will be able to pick up on other cues such as their facial expression and gestures. Focus on staying calm, listening, and being patient.
Be Open To Interpreting
A person with dementia will often lose specific words but talk around the meaning they intend. Listen carefully to words that seem to make no sense as they may have metaphorical relevance or be related to the idea they are grasping for. Often emotions or feelings are easier to express and familiar phrases might act as clues. By calmly gathering all the information that we can see and hear we are more likely to be able to communicate more effectively.
Avoid Conflictive Responses
Be aware that when your loved one gives a response that seems illogical to you, it might reflect their perceived reality in the present moment. Directly challenging them can trigger confusion and defensiveness. Try to avoid contradicting or correcting them. For example, if your loved one puts on a coat to go out on a sunny day, rather than saying “Why are you wearing a coat? You’ll be too hot!”, say instead “The forecast says lovely sunshine today. You might be more comfortable without that jacket.” By avoiding conflict we can navigate these moments with far less chance of distress or embarrassment.
Be Kind To Yourself
Remember that interaction with a loved one who is declining through Dementia can be an emotionally difficult experience. We may feel frustration and anger, and we may not respond perfectly all the time. It is absolutely normal to feel these sorts of emotions and crucial that rather than imagining we are not doing well enough, we forgive ourselves when we struggle. Make sure you reach out for support from those around you, make the most of any help available, and take a break when you need to. Know that in caring for a loved one suffering from dementia, we are demonstrating great strength. Being kind to ourselves through this process allows us to be better carers for our loved ones.