Communication is an essential part of everyday life. Whether it’s communicating through verbal speech, body language, or using assistive technology, effective communication goes beyond just speaking and listening – it’s understanding and interpreting.
According to the Alzheimer Society of Canada, Dementia affects how people express themselves and understand what is being communicated to them. For the person with dementia, maintaining relationships can be a complex process, especially when verbal communication is affected.
People with Dementia may have difficulty finding the right words, repeating words or phrases, or talking less than usual. This can be quite challenging to their loved ones and caregivers.
Tips for Communicating Effectively
Focus on a person’s abilities and skills. If your loved one’s speech has become difficult to understand, use what you know about them and what you are feeling as a way to try to interpret what they might be saying. This requires understanding their likes, dislikes and past experiences. Consider alternate ways of expression through art, music or other activities to maintain and enhance communication.
Speak face to Face. Providing eye contact, standing in close proximity (less than 3ft away), and even speaking to their left side may all help to stimulate the social part of their brain.
Meet the person where they are and accept their new reality. If their sense of reality has changed, try to find creative ways around the situation rather than reacting negatively. Enter their reality, as it is their reality. Avoid contradicting them or trying to convince them that what they believe is untrue or inaccurate.
Gain their attention. Speak using few common words they recognize. Wait for a response patiently, as their processing may be delayed, leaving them unable to answer right away.
Orienting communication. By simply using phrases such as “Good morning, John.” or “It’s time for breakfast”, can aide in their understanding of time and place. These familiar words and phrases can ease their discomfort and confusion and reduce anxiety.
Reassure and be positive. Use familiar things to create a sense of comfort and reassurance and encourage them to communicate in ways that work for them. Laughter and humour are positive ways to help you get through difficult times.
Communication can often be challenging, both for the person with Dementia and those who care for them. Be patient, reassuring, and encouraging. Consider finding creative ways to communicate that speaks to both their personal interests, safety, and history.