Communicating With Someone Who Has Dementia

Dementia is a loose term that covers many conditions that have to do with a loss of mental function. Alzheimer's disease is one well-known example, but there is a family of related diseases. When you are charged with caring for someone who has decreased mental function, communication can be difficult. A little training in how to communicate can go a long way.  

To Repeat or Not to Repeat

If you are talking to someone with dementia, and you keep repeating the same thing over and over, you can frustrate yourself and the person you are trying to talk to. Rather than say the same thing over and over, you should try rephrasing. For example, if you are trying to give a long explanation, you should break up the explanation into simple steps. As you give each step, make sure you pause and check for understanding before you move on; this will give your listener a chance to process. 

Question Your Questioning

When you are talking to someone who has a limited ability to communicate, asking complicated questions can expose their weakness, making them frustrated and irritable. If you have to ask questions, try to make your questions answerable with a simple yes or no. 

Active Listening

People with dementia may get used to people not listening to them. Thus, when you sit down to talk, you need to reassure them that you are actually hearing and understanding what they say. Thus, you should not only nod your head, but you should rephrase what you understand. This will show them that you are listening, and it will also give you a chance to make sure that you understood correctly. 

Body Language

Sometimes what you say and what you understand is not as important as what you are doing while you communicate. If your facial expression and body language show that you are frustrated, a person with dementia may shut down or react with anger. Thus, make sure that you use an encouraging facial expression and open body language. 

These are just a few tips on how to communicate with a person who has dementia. Learning to communicate effectively will take time, training, and practice. If you are struggling to care for someone with dementia, you need to know that things can get better; you just need direction. There are many organizations that offer caregiver resources (such as Nxt Senior and Caregiver Resources Inc.) that can help you to better care for a loved one and reduce the amount of stress you feel.