How to Communicate With Dementia Patients: Tips For Caregivers

Last updated on May 30th, 2024 at 07:36 pm

It can sometimes be challenging to communicate with someone who has dementia. Confusion and misunderstandings can happen in both directions, as both of you may have a hard time understanding what the other person wants to say.

As a caregiver for someone with dementia, you may need to change your communication style slightly. These listening and speaking strategies can help both of you communicate more effectively.

1. Peope with Dementia Want Respect

People with dementia want to feel respected, just like everyone else. It’s a good idea to keep your language respectful when talking to and about the person you are caring for, with no baby talk or other diminutive ways of communicating.

2. Make Eye Contact

Eye contact is important, especially with a person who has dementia. Making eye contact throughout the conversation can help quite a bit, as can holding hands while talking.

3. Be Patient with Patients Who Have Dementia

It’s important to give your client or loved one time to talk without interrupting them. Take time to listen — it may just take a little longer for them to communicate what they need, and everyone wants to feel listened to.

4. Offer Comfort

Communication challenges are often more distressing to the person with dementia than they are to you. If they are having trouble communicating, it might help to let them know it’s OK. Comfort and gentle encouragement can go a long way.

5. Ask Yes or No Questions

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As the person’s dementia progresses, it may be easier to communicate through yes or no questions rather than questions that require a more complex answer. Shorter sentences are often clearer.

6. Avoid Criticisms

Criticisms can be extra rough when a person is having trouble understanding you or communicating with you. It may be better to avoid arguing when the person says something you disagree with and leave off from correcting mistakes.

7. Limit Distractions

Background noises and visual distractions such as a TV or radio can make it more challenging for someone with dementia (and you!) to hear, listen attentively, and concentrate. You may find it easier to communicate when these types of distractions are limited.

8. Offer Choices for Unpleasant Tasks

You can make unpleasant tasks seem more pleasant by offering choices. For example, if they often resist taking showers, you might ask them whether they want to take a shower before dinner or after dinner. That way, the person at least feels like they chose part of the experience.

9. Don’t Discount their Reality

Instead of reminding a person with dementia that their mother is dead, or they have been retired for 20 years now, just validate their experience. While they may be reliving a decade long gone, you can validate how they feel and offer a task that goes along with their reality.  One example would be offering a snack and a jacket while they are “waiting for mom to get them.”

10. Give Simple Instructions, One Step at a Time

If you are working with someone who is easily confused, it may help to break requests down into single, simple steps. Focusing on one task at a time can lead to a greater chance of success.

11. Use Visual Cues

Visual cues and gestures are sometimes more effective than verbal cues alone. For example, if you want to ask if the person if hungry, you may want to take out some food and point to it when you ask.

12. Don’t Exclude Peope with Dementia From Conversations

Don’t talk about the person as if they weren’t there or otherwise leave them out of conversations. Even if they aren’t communicating their unhappiness, they will still feel the pain of exclusion.

Get Assistance With Caring For Your Loved One With Dementia

Sunrise’s Home Care Program is here to help individuals and families with caregiving tasks. We can provide assistance for “burnt out” family members and connect you to community resources for people with dementia.

Contact us today if you are looking for compassionate assistance and care.

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