Tips for Communicating with Someone who has Dementia

Dealing with dementia is never easy and communication is particularly challenging.  The disorder makes it hard for patient to understand and deliver messages. This often leads to frustration for both the patient and their families which can result in unpleasant and unnecessary conflict.  Consider these tips for speaking to a person with dementia.

1. Stay positive. Dementia is a progressive disease so keeping a good attitude is important.  The attitude one exudes with his or her body language resonates more strongly with dementia patients than do words.

2. Limit distractions. Turn off the tv, radio, or any device that creates background noise. If possible, speak when there is no one else around, this allows the person to focus his or her mental energy on the conversation.

3. Speak clearly and with a warm voice.  Avoid “baby talk” or any tone that could be perceived as condescending.

4. Be specific.  Avoid pronouns like “him”, “her”, “its”.  Instead, call everything by its name. Names are important for jogging the memory of people who have dementia.

5. Keep questions simple. Ask yes or no questions, or at least questions that do not require complex answers.

6. Keep a close eye on body language.  Even if a person with dementia is struggling to get the words out, their body language will communicate their feelings.

7. Distract and Redirect.  If a conversation is not going in a good direction, use distraction and redirection to change the subject.

8. Respond with affection. People with dementia may not remember something, remember it incorrectly or remember things that never occurred.  Don’t try to convince them that they are wrong, that will lead to anger.  Instead, focus on expressing affection and comfort towards the person.

Dementia patients (and their families) will have good days and bad days.  Staying aware of the various communication tools and being cognizant of the type of day the patient is having will help you to maintain equilibrium and provide clarity of communication.

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