Dementia is a degenerative neurological illness that impacts an individual’s cognitive abilities and memory. Daily routines, faces, places, names, dates – everything seems confusing to such individuals. Therefore, communicating with dementia patients can be extremely challenging.

Whether it’s a friend or family member, if they have dementia, it may be difficult for them to understand you, and you may not be able to understand what they are trying to tell you. The situation may lead to frustration and confusion all over, and make communication even harder. Remember that dementia impacts an individual’s personality and character, and they also find it difficult to care for themselves; they may also experience mood swings.

One needs tremendous patience, excellent listening skills, and thoughtful strategy to interact with dementia patients.

Individuals with Alzheimer’s and other types of dementia gradually find it very difficult to present ideas rationally and to use reason and logic.

Does Dementia Affect Speech? 

Yes, it does affect speech, though the consequences are likely to be different for different individuals.

If you are caring for an individual with dementia, you may see that as dementia gets worse, you may have to initiate the conversation every time. Such individuals are likely to have delayed replies to questions or statements and may find it increasingly difficult to process information.

What to expect when talking to dementia patients:

While each patient with dementia may exhibit different symptoms, here are some of the common dementia language characteristics you may notice:

  • Inability to find the correct word
  • Repeating sentences, questions, or words
  • Using wrong words
  • Using descriptions of objects rather than their names
  • Losing thought flow and stopping mid-sentence
  • Mixing unrelated phrases or ideas
  • Reverting to a childhood language
  • Speaking lesser than usual.

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Using Body Language to Communicate

Talking and words are not the only way to communicate. One can express a great deal through facial expressions, movements, and gestures. In fact, physical contact is one of the best dementia communication techniques. 

Remember this:

  • It is important to stay calm and exhibit a great deal of patience to facilitate communication
  • Ensure your tone is mild and friendly
  • Don’t assume an intimidating physical posture
  • Holding the hand of the person with dementia can reassure and comfort them 
  • Smile and be mindful of your facial expressions
  • If they feel confused or anxious, comfort them with a hand on their shoulder or reassure them with pats
  • If you feel angry or frustrated, don’t let them see it on your face; turn your back for a few moments and compose yourself
  • Coax them to look at you when either of you is talking

Communicating With Alzheimer’s Patients

Alzheimer’s is the most common type of dementia, and it is life-altering. Here we will discuss some practical ways of facilitating dementia communication. This is especially helpful for caregivers and people who live with such a person in their home. Improved communication skills will reduce some of your stress and ensure you have a better relationship with your loved one. It will also be easier for you to handle the difficult behaviours often seen in such people.

Set a Positive Mood

Ensure a pleasant atmosphere; the surroundings, your attitude, body language, and expressions can set the tone – either positive or negative. A calm, friendly, and respectful tone, reassuring gestures and actions, even appropriate comforting touches – all of these can help. It can convey your care, attention, and affection.

Get Their Attention

Make sure they are aware of your presence, limit background noise, close doors, and draw curtains. A quiet and calm ambience will put the patient at ease. It is a good idea to remind the individual of their and your names and relationship, what day it is, where you live etc. This may stimulate some memories, and help them stay focused too. If they are seated when talking to them, you should also sit down and ensure you are at their eye level.

Speak with Empathy

This is extremely important when we talk about dementia communication strategies. Use simple words and short sentences, and speak clearly and slowly in reassuring tones – never raise your voice. Repeat yourself if they can’t understand you – try rephrasing, as we have seen above. Avoid using pronouns and abbreviations; people with dementia may not remember or be able to process the information and may find it cryptic.

Be Careful With Your Questions

Don’t ask confusing and convoluted questions which are open-ended. Stick to questions that can be answered in yes or no. If possible, use visual clues; this will make it easier for them to answer. For example, if you want to ask them if they would like to eat an apple or banana, rather than just ask, show them both fruits while asking.

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Be Patient

Though this was mentioned before, it is worth reiterating. This is even more so if you provide home health care for dementia patients. Your patient is confused, scared, and may be angry. It can be very frustrating to care for such a person, and you may be tempted to give up. You may not understand what they are saying and may be tempted to yell, or just give up. You need to have mountains of patience to take care of such people and communicate effectively with them.

Baby Steps

If you want the person to do an activity, break it down into a series of small, manageable steps that can be easier for the patient to understand and perform. Provide gentle encouragement and coax and remind them of the next step if they forget or are unable to do it on their own. It could be getting dressed, eating a meal, or even switching on the TV and changing channels.

Distract and Redirect 

Alzheimer’s patients can suddenly get upset and start crying or shouting, or running away. It is important that you talk calmly, distract them from whatever has triggered them, and change the subject to something they are fond of. In any case, it is a good idea to remove them from the stressful situation; you could even go for a walk.

Add Some Humour

Use humour to lighten the situation and make them laugh – but the humour should never be at the expense of the person you are caring for. Dementia does not completely erode the social skills of those patients, and they too enjoy a laugh now and again.

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To Sum Up

Here we have given a brief idea of how to talk to dementia patients; it is not necessarily a complete list of ideas. Every individual is affected in a different way, and you may need different strategies for all of them. Some of it you may only get to know through practical experience, and you may even come up with your own methods.