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Communicating With Your Family Member with Dementia

a family member communicating with a parent that has dementia

Watching a loved one who has Alzheimer’s disease or dementia struggle with communication is always a challenge. Someone living with dementia can have difficulty understanding others, and additionally they may not be able to verbalize what they are trying to say very clearly. There is so much potential for misunderstanding, frustration, and confusion when it comes to interactions with others. If you have a friend or family member who is struggling with dementia, then you’ll need to be patient and practice a few new strategies that may help with communication.

What Are Some of The Symptoms of Dementia When it Comes to Communicating?

Someone who is living with dementia can have many difficulties including remembering simple words or communicating their needs clearly. The Alzheimer’s Association identifies some patterns that may emerge in conversation that include:

  • Reverting to a native tongue or first language
  • Substituting words
  • Not engaging in conversation as much as usual
  • Losing a train of thought, or trailing off
  • Mixing up phrases, idioms, or unrelated ideas
  • Repeating questions, stories, or even words
  • Describing a person or object rather than putting a name to it
  • Struggling to find the right word

What Are Some Tactics to Help Improve Understanding in Communication?

According to the Alzheimer’s Association, these include:

  • Patience – It may be difficult, but instead of interrupting or correcting your loved one, try to take the time to listen and allow your family member to speak without interruption.
  • Interpretation – Pay attention to the context clues in the conversation to help you understand what is being said. If your loved one is struggling with an idea, wait until they finish speaking then offer a guess.
  • Stay Connected – Remember to make eye contact while you communicate with your loved one, use their name while you are speaking to them, and keep physical contact with them, like holding hands. It helps your loved one stay focused on the conversation.
  • Be Careful of Your Nonverbal Cues – Remember to stay relaxed, calm, and to keep your body language open and comfortable. Your family member will feel more patient and relaxed if you are.
  • Offer comfort – If your loved one with dementia starts to have issues communicating, let them know that it is okay, and try to provide gentle and kind encouragement.
  • Be Respectful – Your family member is likely an adult who has lived a very full life, so try to avoid baby talk or diminutive phrases. Include your loved in the conversation instead of speaking about them as if they aren’t present or in the room.
  • Avoid distractions – Background noise, visual distractions, and busy environments can make it difficult for your loved one to listen and concentrate on the conversation, try to limit these.
  • Simplicity – Try using shorter sentences, and close ended questions that require only a yes or no answer. You can even break requests down into single steps.
  • Remember Choices – When you are asking your loved one to do something that they might resist, offer a choice. For example, you might say, “would you prefer to take a bath before your snack or after?”
  • Visual Options – Sometimes visual cues can promote a better understanding than simple words. Rather than asking if your loved one would like to wear the blouse with the blue flowers, hold up two options and ask, “Would you like to wear this blouse, or this one?”
  • Avoid Arguments and Corrections – Try not to correct mistakes and avoid the argument when someone you love says something you disagree with. This causes distress and can lead to even more significant communication issues.
  • Take Frequent Breaks – Instead of getting frustrated, try taking a break and then coming back to the conversation when you are calmer. Your loved one will pick up on your emotions easily, so when you are calm, they’ll be calm.

How Does Dementia Affect the Brain?

According to when it comes to dementia or Alzheimer’s, it specifically targets the brain in a way that restricts your loved one’s ability to learn new information. This is why those who are living with these diseases are able to remember things from their past but are unable to remember the visit that they had with their child yesterday. Dementia affects only certain parts of the brain, specifically the temporal lobes, which are responsible for new experiences.

Long term memories are tied to several parts of the brain. We remember how our parents’ banana bread smelled, what it tasted like, and how warm and comforted we felt when we were eating it. This memory will be harder to lose.

The challenges of communication with your loved one who lives with dementia will evolve as the disease progresses. You may eventually find that nonverbal communication, much like a comforting touch or the soothing sound of your voice may become the most important and meaningful communication. As choices and communication becomes more difficult, you shouldn’t be afraid to reach out when you need a break or assistance.

Don’t forget that Homewatch CareGivers of Ellicott City is here for you. It is always a privilege to provide our clients with compassionate and professional assistance. Don’t hesitate to contact us today if you have more questions or keep browsing our website for more information.

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