When someone has dementia, it can cause a decline in their ability to communicate with others. This combined with other types of mental decline can make it hard to talk to a loved one about important tasks, or even just the basics of the day.
It can be devastating to see your loved one struggling to understand, or getting upset due to miscommunication. Fortunately, how you approach a conversation with your loved one can make it easier for both of you. In caring for hundreds of people who are living with dementia and the training our caregivers take annually on our Homewatch CareGivers University, we wanted to share these 5 ways to communicate with a loved one living with dementia.
1. Avoid distractions
Setting up the environment for a conversation with your loved one can help make it easier for them to focus on you. People living with dementia find it much harder to focus when the TV is blaring, other people are talking in the room, or in a busy restaurant or shopping center.
If possible, turn off distractions like TV or music, and speak with your loved one when it is quiet. A quiet environment can help improve their ability to focus on you and what is being said.
2. Talk with your hands
Gesturing with your hands, and speaking in a clear voice, can help someone living with dementia to better understand what is going on. If for example, you are asking them if they want to sit down, pointing down or at a chair can help them understand what you are asking.
It’s also important to keep your tone warm and friendly even if you’re feeling frustrated by the conversation. If you sound negative or angry, it can agitate your loved one and cause communication to break down.
3. Be patient
It’s going to take time for your loved one to hear what you have to say and formulate their own response. Don’t try to rush this by repeating the question or changing the subject. If your loved one starts to answer but can’t seem to find the right words, it’s okay to support them by suggesting the word they may be looking for.
4. Avoid Arguing
If your loved one is convinced it is still the 1970s, or has the day or time wrong, it’s not necessary to correct them. Some people with dementia simply exist in a different time and find it easier to process there.
It’s not critically important that your mother knows your father passed on a decade ago, or that you no longer live at a certain house. If it’s not vitally important that they do something or understand something, you can disagree, but otherwise, let it go.
5. You don’t have to do it alone
If you find yourself frustrated with trying to communicate all the time, hiring a caregiver to help support you can make a huge difference. Caregivers often have a lot of experience in communicating with those with dementia, and can help support you and your efforts.
A caregiver can also help by allowing you to take back your role as child again, and simply enjoy the time you have with your parents.