Communicating with Dementia in Mind

January 10, 2012

Communicating with Dementia in Mind

When it comes to communicating with someone suffering from dementia, both understanding and being understood can be difficult. Follow these helpful tips to make the process as smooth as possible.

  • Use simple words and short sentences.
  • Use a gentle, calm tone of voice, but avoid speaking in baby talk.
  • Avoid talking about the person as if they are not present.
  • Minimize distractions and noise to help the person focus on what you are saying. Make eye contact and call the person by name. Ensure that you have their full attention before speaking.
  • Allow enough time for a response and do not interrupt. If the person is struggling to find a word, gently try to provide it to them.
  • Frame instructions in a positive way. Negativity will simply shut the person down.
  • Be open and responsive to the person’s concerns, even if they are unwarranted. Remember that to them, they are valid concerns that deserve consideration.

Helpful Tips for Caregivers

Providing care for a loved one with dementia is a very challenging endeavor that can easily stress and overwhelm the caregiver. Follow these helpful tips from Psychiatric Home Health Nurse Debbie Crawley, RN, to lighten the load.

  • Restrict outings to quiet, peaceful places “Caregivers often feel like they’re prisoners in their own home because their loved one gets upset and confused when they take them along on outings. But that doesn’t have to be the case if you just choose your outings wisely. Running errands or shopping with a dementia patient is not a good idea, but taking them for a quiet walk in the park or a nice picnic at a favorite outdoor spot is a great way to get out of the house. As long as the destination is peaceful and relatively quiet, they will generally respond well.”
  • Stick to a routine “Dementia and confusion go hand-in-hand. Routines lessen the chances for confusion, because even though the patient may not remember the exact actions, they still recognize and respond positively to their familiarity.”
  • Take your time “Accept that it will take significantly longer to complete tasks than it used to, and schedule accordingly so that you do not have to hurry your loved one.”
  • Be flexible “I often have to encourage caregivers to relax their standards a bit in order to gain some much needed peace. Bathing is a good example. Many caregivers think their loved one should be bathed daily because that had always been their routine. But if it’s now an upsetting activity for the patient, and it’s not truly needed, short sponge baths between showers is perfectly acceptable. This principal applies to a variety of situations.”
  • Limit choices “Asking someone with dementia to make a decision can cause unneeded stress for both the patient and caregiver if asked incorrectly. The patient will become frustrated at their inability to articulate their desire, or even understand the question, and the caregiver then feels unsure about how to proceed. Stick to a short list of options rather than open-ended questions. For example, asking whether they would like to have milk or water is better than asking what they’d like to drink.”