As many as 47 million individuals in the United States already exhibit symptoms of Alzheimer’s disease. That’s on top of the estimated 5.7 million who currently live with it.
Now, let’s combine both and compare it with the total number of households in the country.
The results will tell you that you have a 42% likelihood of living in a household with someone suffering from dementia.
You may even be looking for advice on how to talk to someone with dementia because a loved one already has it.
You’ve noticed how conversations with them dry up quickly. You find yourself avoiding certain topics that may get them upset.
So, what exactly then should you do to make communication better?
Here are 10 tips you can and should start with.
1. Empathy and Patience are Key
Maintaining effective communication with your loved one suffering from dementia is crucial to a well-rounded care plan.
However, it can prove challenging because their condition can hinder them from relaying what they really want to say. Their impaired cognitive function can also make it difficult for them to understand what you’re saying.
This is why you need to show more empathy and patience to your family member with dementia. It’s more important to focus on how you say things rather than what you want to say.
For starters, slow down. You don’t have to shout (dementia is different from hearing impairment.) Also, try lowering the pitch of your voice.
All these show empathy and patience. As such, your loved one will feel happier knowing that you understand them. Furthermore, such manner of speaking can prevent them from becoming upset.
2. Use the Right Body Language
Look them straight in the eye, but don’t forget to also smile. You want to show them not just your facial expressions, but also your relaxed body.
A genuine smile can make a huge difference to a person with dementia. After all, it can help them feel more at ease. Even when they have trouble remembering who you are, a smile will make them open up to you.
3. One Question/Direction at a Time
Long questions or statements can befuddle dementia patients even more. So, take it one question/direction at a time.
For instance, instead of asking them “How are you? Did you have a good night’s sleep?” they’ll find it easier to answer just “How are you?”
The same goes true for giving them directions. Don’t remind them to take medicine A, B, and C, in one sentence. Break it down so they won’t get lost with all those drug names.
4. Switch to More Direct Questions
Communicating with dementia sufferers is easier when they don’t need to think long and hard about an answer.
For example, asking them what they like for lunch can overwhelm them. First, because this can make them think of so many types of food at once. Second, it may upset them if they can’t remember the name of a certain food they have in mind.
As such, make it easier for them by giving them a choice. You can try something like “Do you want chicken salad for lunch?” or “How does beef stew for dinner sound to you?”
5. Props and Apps Can Help “Locate” Memories
A trip down (happy) memory lane with photos is a good way to jog your loved one’s memories. It’s therapeutic and can even help boost a dementia sufferer’s confidence.
Studies have even found that certain smartphone apps can help people remember things past! You may want to try installing them and using it as a tool for conversations.
6. Give Them Time to Come Up with a Response
One of the common dementia behaviors you’ll notice is that patients often don’t respond right away. In most cases, this is because it’s taking them longer to formulate their response.
So, don’t pressure them. Give them enough time to reply.
Sometimes, you’d need to repeat yourself. But, in doing so, say it exactly the same way you did as before. Using different words may confuse them even more.
Make sure you’re also careful with the volume of your voice. Especially when repeating yourself.
If you say something louder, they may think that you’ve become upset. This may make them feel even more frustrated with themselves.
7. Avoid Putting Them “On the Spot”
Remember, you’re loved one is suffering from memory impairment, so they may no longer remember things that just happened a few hours ago. As such, questions that would make them use a lot of “remembering” can overwhelm them.
For instance, asking them about what happened in a movie they watched can put them “on the spot.” Try as they might, they may have serious difficulties remembering. This not only makes them more frustrated; it can also put more stress on them.
8. Disagreeing is Futile
This is a lot harder done than said, but you need to accept it. Dementia, after all, eats away at a person’s reasoning and logic. Disagreeing with a loved one who has it won’t help.
An example is when your parent suffering from dementia thinks that a person who has already passed away is still alive. Convincing your mom or dad otherwise not only isn’t helpful. It can also take an emotional toll on them.
What you can do instead is to look beyond their questions about this person. Perhaps they miss this person, which is why they brought the name up. In this case, you can try steering the conversation towards happier memories they shared with that individual.
9. Rephrase Your Don’ts
Most often than not, it’s easier to start a sentence with a “don’t!” or something similar but still negative. To patients with dementia, this can sound offending, not to mention frustrating on their part.
So, before you utter your next sentence starting with a don’t, think of a way to make it sound more positive. Maybe instead of saying “Don’t leave your room!” you can try with “Let’s stay here in your room and look at this photo album.”
10. A Touch May Be All the Conversation They Need
Sometimes, even just holding hands with or embracing your family member with dementia is enough conversation for them. These small acts can already give them the emotional support they need.
Need More Help on How to Talk to Someone with Dementia?
These tips on how to talk to someone with dementia can make a whole world of difference to you and your loved one. So, the next time you’re struggling, make sure you think about what we’ve just discussed.
But if you need more help in improving communication with your parent or sibling with this condition, then please feel free to call us for more guidance.