Communicating When Your Loved One Has Dementia

Jun 5, 2018
Senior couple having a conversation

One of the first signs of dementia is the loss of normal communication abilities. It may begin slowly but as the symptoms persist, communication will become more difficult. Caregivers, friends and family of someone with dementia may become frustrated when they can’t make themselves understood, and the same is true for the person with dementia, especially in the very earliest stages. No matter what a person’s role is, being able to communicate with their friend or loved one with dementia can make a huge difference in their quality of life. Here are six tips for improving communication and avoiding frustrations.

1) One of the first communication challenges for someone with dementia is the loss of names of people, places and things. A person with dementia may be unable to tell who called or why, what they had for dinner last night, or even the dog’s name. This impedes normal communications and can be so frustrating the person may begin to limit conversation.

Caregivers and others can help fill in the missing information by suggesting possible names that make sense, reminding the person gently what they had for dinner, or pointing to the dog and speaking their name clearly. It is important not to remind the person that they have forgotten things or to raise your voice when responding. A calm and reassuring response will help the person far more than a critical one.

2) People with dementia are very sensitive to non-verbal communication so when words fail, it is important to remember communication can be accomplished in other ways.

For example, if you want the person to do something, try doing it yourself while making eye contact with them. Let’s say you want them to put on a jacket to go out for a walk, put your own on first and then hand them their own jacket. If you just want someone to feel calmer or less frustrated, you might touch them gently on the arm or give them a light hug. While doing so, always keep a smile on your face so they know you are there for them.

Also remember, negative body language like grouchy or angry facial expressions can be detrimental so try to be aware of your body language as much as your verbal language.

3) Since dementia robs people of recent memories but generally leaves older memories intact, spend time strengthening your relationship by recalling times gone by. Try paging slowly through family photo albums with the person, tell them about awards they may have received or special honors they are proud of, as well as family and friends. Photos from vacations, birthdays, anniversaries and other life events can help to keep old memories alive even as dementia steals yesterday. Try to entice the person to tell you the stories behind the pictures and help to fill in missing information if you can. Again, spend the time reminiscing quietly, use a calm and comforting voice and don’t chastise if they cannot recall a face or a name.

4) When asking questions that require an answer, keep it simple and limit possible answers. For example, don’t ask the person what they would like for lunch; instead ask if they would like a salad or a sandwich. Keep in mind the person’s ability to concentrate is limited so short sentences are preferable to long drawn out questions or explanations. It is also helpful if you resist the urge to treat them like a child, talk to them like you would a toddler or condescend. They are still adults and they will tune into a positive tone of voice much better than a negative one.

5) When communication becomes more difficult than normal, try reducing distractions before attempting to try again. Loud television and radio noise, sounds generated by traffic, law mowers, and other motorized equipment, even bright lights can impact people with dementia as they struggle to filter them out and sort out what they want to say.

Whenever possible, keep the person’s living environment distraction free or nearly free by keeping volumes down, shading bright lights and keeping windows closed to block road noises. Keep this in mind as well if you decide to go to a public place like a restaurant. Loud background music, combined with dozens of conversations, and people coming and going can literally overload the senses of a person with dementia. What might have been a nice meal out before dementia can become a nightmare of distraction after.

Also note that dementia makes people much more sensitive to sudden loud sounds that wouldn’t bother anyone else. Things like slamming doors, a loud dog barking or firecrackers going off can be very upsetting, causing overstimulation and agitation.

6) As dementia progresses, people begin to lose their familiarity with even their closest friends and relatives. This is one of the worst of all dementia symptoms and causes frustration for the person and utter sadness for those who love them. But there is a way to help keep names associated with faces: When someone comes to visit, always announce them to the person using their name and maybe even where the person knows them from.

For example, “Mom, look who stopped by, Barb Smith, your friend from church.” And don’t do this just for friends, do it for everyone from children and their spouses and kids to other relatives, every time they visit. Remember, people with dementia will probably do better visiting with people one-on-one rather than bringing a big group to visit.

Dementia is different in every person even though it has many common symptoms exhibited by almost all who have it. Always speak with your loved one’s physician when you have health-related concerns and questions. For more comprehensive information, consider reading another of our blog posts, “Memory Loss and Memory Care Guide.

If you have questions about short- or long-term care for a loved one with dementia, Brightside Assisted Living & Memory Care today or call Margaret Nagel at (517) 206-5000 or download our brochure to learn about our care levels, cost, and amenities. We’re always here to help!

 

memory care

Subscribe to our blog.

Recent Posts

8 Ways an Independent Living Community Supports Your Lifestyle

What do you want out of retirement? The freedom to roam? Relief from all the responsibilities of owning a home? Time to pursue self-fulfillment? Exceptional services and amenities? No matter how you perceive your desired retirement lifestyle, take a look at some of...

Health Changes to Look for When Visiting Mom Over the Holidays

The holidays are a wonderful time to get together with family and friends, but they also offer an opportunity to assess the health and well-being of a senior loved one. This is especially true if it has been weeks or months since the last visit since changes will...

Dementia: Understanding Sundown Syndrome

Dementia is a devastating diagnosis with many implications, not the least of which is a condition known as sundown syndrome. Also called sundowning or sundowner’s syndrome this condition generally strikes late in the day as the sun goes down but can occur anytime...

5 Tips for Better Mornings with Arthritis

“Arthritis” is an umbrella term for a variety of diseases and conditions that cause joint pain and inflammation.  While people of all ages can have arthritis, seniors often expect arthritis to occur as they age and when it does, mornings can be especially painful....

Why Everyone Needs an Advance Directive

Do you know what will happen if you are suddenly incapacitated and cannot make decisions for yourself? While it’s human nature to adhere to the “that won’t happen to me” mindset, the reality is that no one knows what the future holds. That’s why every adult needs an...

5 Decorating Tips for Your Senior Living Retirement Home

After years of living in a family home, moving to a senior living community and starting anew means decorating a new senior living home, something that can be a fun and exciting experience. But where to begin? Whether the new home is a house, condo, cottage or...

The Alzheimer’s Disease Challenges Women Face

Alzheimer’s disease is devastating and its prevalence is on the rise. According to the alz.org report, “2023 Alzheimer’s Disease Facts and Figures,” in 2023 there are about 6.7 million Americans age 65 and older with the disease, and as the population ages, that...

Home Safety for Older Adults: A Checklist of Top Considerations

Home safety for older adults is top of mind concern for loved ones and adult children. According to the AARP Home and Community Preference Survey,  79% of seniors (ages 50 and above) prefer to live at home as they age, but only about 34% recognize they may need to...

What Services Do Memory Care Communities Provide?

Making the decision to move yourself or a loved one to a memory care community should be a well-informed one. All memory care communities are not created equal, but the best have several things in common. When comparing memory care communities be sure to include the...

Share This