People who suffer from Dementia or Alzheimer’s often have trouble reasoning or expressing their thoughts and emotions making it difficult for them to communicate with others. It is important to know how to talk and communicate to loved ones with Dementia or Alzheimer’s so they do not become frustrated or angered and you can stay calm.
We have put together a list of several helpful tips that you can use to help Dementia or Alzheimer’s sufferers communicate better.
How to talk to a parent with Dementia or Alzheimer’s:
1. Be patient and supportive
It’s important that the person knows you’re listening and trying to understand. Show the person that you care about what he or she is saying and be careful not to interrupt, even if it takes them a while to communicate their thoughts.
2. Offer comfort and reassurance
This is something the entire family experiences together, not something that one person experiences alone. They need to know you’re talking with them, not at them.
3. Be Patient
Chances are, the person you love will have trouble communicating, be patient with them. Let them know that it’s okay to take time to gather their thoughts, but encourage them to continue to explain his or herself.
4. Avoid criticizing or correcting
This is not the time to tell your mom or dad how wrong they are or crazy they sound. Instead, listen and try to find the meaning in what is being said. If you’re genuinely confused at what they are trying to say, repeat what was said to clarify the thought.
5. Don’t argue
If you suspect your parents may be headed towards dementia, there’s no point in arguing with them. If the person says something you don’t agree with, let it be. Arguing usually only makes things worse — often heightening the level of agitation for the person with dementia.
6. Offer a guess
If the person uses the wrong word or cannot find a word, try guessing the right one. If you understand what the person means, you don’t need to give the correct word. Be careful not to cause unnecessary frustration.
7. Encourage unspoken communication
If you don’t understand what is being said, and language is becoming difficult, ask the person to point or gesture. You can also offer pictures if you think they will be able to communicate adequately that way.
8. Limit distractions
Too much sensory input can easily put them into overload, find a place that’s quiet. The surroundings should support the person’s ability to focus on his or her thoughts not be distracting or overwhelming to them.
9. Focus on feelings, not facts
Sometimes it’s easier to focus on the fact, but more often the emotions being expressed are more important. Pay less attention to what is being said and look for the feelings behind the words. This may provide clues as to whether your loved one is scared, sad, angry, etc.
10. Use short, simple words and sentences
This isn’t the time to monologue your parents or present a prepared speech. Lengthy requests or stories can be overwhelming. Ask one question at a time. Keep your thoughts and words short and direct.
11. Speak slowly and distinctively
Be aware of speed and clarity. Speak as if you were speaking to a child, but use a lower pitch as it is more calming, and keep a gentle and relaxed tone.
12. Patiently wait for a response
Chances are, the person may need extra time to process what you said. Allow them time to process and respond without jumping in to say more things that will require more processing and response time. Allow for the silence and be patient.
13. Repeat information or questions as needed
If the person doesn’t respond for a few moments, ask again in a more simple way.
14. Turn questions into answers
Asking too many questions can be overwhelming when your loved one can’t answer them all right away. Instead of asking, just show them the solution. For example, say “The bathroom is right here,” instead of asking, “Do you need to use the bathroom?”
15. Avoid confusing and vague statements
Avoid euphemisms or cliché phrasing, and just describe things literally and directly. For example, if you tell the person to “Hop in!” he or she may interpret your instructions literally. Instead, describe the action directly: “Please come here. Your shower is ready.” Rather than “Here it is” say “Here is your hat.”
16. Turn negatives into positives
Use positive redirection whenever possible. For example, instead of saying, “Don’t go there,” say, “Let’s go here.”
17. Give visual cues
This is especially helpful when you’re working through a task. Point or touch the item you want the individual to use instead of just talk about it, use visual cues.
18. Avoid quizzing
This is tempting to be constantly quizzing your loved one to see what they do or do not remember. Feel free to talk about your own memories as reminiscing may be healthy, but avoid using the phrase, “Do you remember when … ?” This often causes more agitation and anxiety when they realize they should be remembering something and they can’t.
19. Write things down
Written notes as reminders are a great way to help out if the person is able to read and understand them. Make them short and simple and clear.
20. Treat the person with dignity and respect
Avoid talking down to the person or talking as if he or she isn’t there. They are often able to understand more than you realize. Always be aware of your feelings and attitude. Do your best to stay positive and friendly in both verbal and nonverbal communication.
Communication is Key
Watching your parents age can be difficult and when signs of dementia appear, it can be harder than ever. It’s important to try and separate the disease from the person. They are still your mother, they still love you but the disease causes them to look, act, and behave completely differently. Remember this is not about you or your relationship, it’s about managing a disease.
The bottom line is to keep it simple and avoid situations that will overstimulate. Quiet surroundings allow someone with dementia to make better sense of what is going on. Be sensitive to their experience, and provide them the patience and respect they deserve.
Patti Naiser at Senior Home Transitions is a Certified Dementia Care Practitioner and can provide expert advice if you have questions about communicating with your loved one. Give us a call anytime, we’re happy to help.