10 Tips for Connecting to a Senior with Dementia
Watching someone you care about deteriorate from dementia is painful. As memory loss worsens, it will inevitably change the relationship you have with your loved one. However, that doesn’t mean you can’t maintain a meaningful connection with them throughout the progression of the disease. There are a variety of techniques and approaches specifically meant to improve interactions with someone who has dementia. Making the effort to improve communication skills will make interacting with your senior loved one easier and less stressful for you. You will better be able to handle any of the difficult dementia behaviors they exhibit. Hopefully, better communication strategies will enhance the quality of your relationship.
Friends, family members, and caregivers can use the 10 tips below to connect and communicate effectively with a senior suffering from dementia.
What is dementia?
Dementia is a progressive brain disorder that affects someone’s ability to remember and think clearly. The ability to communicate declines as well since it impairs the processing and interpretation of language.
Dementia is not a specific disease but rather an overall term that describes a group of symptoms. Alzheimer’s is the most common form of dementia and it is a degenerative brain disease.
The symptoms and severity vary but those with dementia may suffer from unexpected mood swings, confusion, difficulty sleeping, and personality changes. This could mean they become aggressive, nervous, or withdraw themselves socially.
Though dementia causes a lot of changes in those who suffer from it, please remember that your loved one is still the same person at heart.
When communicating with a senior suffering from Alzheimer’s disease or another form of dementia, you will need to find new ways and alter your approach so you can successfully provide the support and attention they need. Fortunately, there are a variety of techniques to aid you in building a meaningful connection. Here are our 10 tips for connecting to a senior with dementia:
When greeting and talking to your senior loved one, use your name and theirs repeatedly to help keep their attention. Identifying yourself by name will help to remind them who you are if they are forgetful of faces and names. When talking about other people, also refer to them by name in conversation instead of saying pronouns like he, she, or they.
People with dementia can get confused and be more present in an earlier time in their past. If this is the case, don’t try to reorient them to the present day. Instead a better tactic is to identify yourself only by your name instead of your relationship to them. For example: don’t say: “Hi, it’s your daughter Lucy.” Instead say: “Hi, it’s Lucy.”
When trying to communicate with your senior loved one, eliminate distractions such as music playing or the television. Even simple distractions can overwhelm someone with dementia. If you can, sit down with them one-on-one in a quiet environment. If you’re in a public place together (like a café or park) try to find a quiet spot away from others.
Reducing possible distractions will help someone with dementia to better concentrate on the conversation and their responses or questions.
Speak in simple language.
When speaking to someone with dementia, it’s important to speak clearly, in simple terms and complete sentences. Be concise while maintaining a calm and kind tone of voice.
Keep what you’re saying brief and when explaining something, use the simplest of terms. Idioms and slang should both be avoided.
Ask yes or no questions.
Ask yes or no questions instead of open-ended queries with many possible answers.
Simple questions are best since they are most straightforward and those with dementia can understand and decide what to say quicker. With only two possible responses, your loved one is less likely to get confused processing the question and answering it.
Understand that some days will be better than others for someone with dementia so be patient. Don’t interrupt them or get irritated if they are having trouble thinking of a word or understanding what you said. Offer reassurance and encourage them to take their time when waiting to hear what they want to say.
Use nonverbal cues and visual communication.
For people with progressed dementia, nonverbal cues (such as facial expressions or physical actions) can be incredibly powerful communication tools in conveying your meaning to them. Nonverbal cues can include: smiling, maintaining eye contact, or holding their hand.
In addition to verbally speaking out loud, try to also visually communicate with your body through gestures and subtle motions so they better understand what you’re saying.
Discuss one thing at a time.
Conversations naturally can contain multiple threads as people go on different tangents before returning back to previous threads. This back and forth is normal as the conversation flows. Dementia sufferers, however, have trouble processing multiple thoughts at the same time. So it is difficult for them to keep track of multiple aspects to a conversation without forgetfulness or confusion. To aid this challenge, please concentrate on discussing only one topic at once and only explaining one concept at a time before moving on.
If you notice your loved one growing irritated with a situation, try changing the activity or environment to redirect them.
But first, it’s crucial to clearly acknowledge to them that you’re aware they are upset. Then suggest a new alternative activity to distract from their frustration or agitation. For example: going for a walk, listening to music, or having a snack together.
Don’t correct or criticize.
Understand and anticipate that someone with dementia is going to get confused and sometimes mispronounce or incorrectly use words and names. Try to stop yourself from correcting or criticizing them for it.
It’s fine to let delusions or misstatements go without pointing them out. Those suffering from dementia live more and more in their own reality as the disease progresses. Because of this, constantly correcting or criticizing what they say will not be beneficial. It may halt communication and prevent the possibility of a meaningful connection.
Get creative and utilize hearing, sight, smell, taste, and touch to communicate with your senior loved one in new ways. Tapping into different senses can nurture a greater connection and raise the person’s spirit.
Music and melodies are one thing dementia does not take away from the brain. So try singing or playing your loved one’s favorite music to see if this engages them.
If your efforts to connect with your senior loved one aren’t going how you hoped, it’s okay. People suffering from dementia have good and bad days like us all. If they are having an outburst or tantrum, just be present with them in a gentle manner. Make sure they are comfortable as sometimes not being able to communicate their basic needs like hunger or being cold can be frustrating and lead to outbursts. Try to figure out what soothes them.
Even if your senior loved one doesn’t remember you, know that your presence, time, and love are still important to their well-being.
If you’re noticing signs that your loved one’s dementia is progressing and requires further assistance, Helping Hands for Seniors can assist you in finding memory care communities and other options nearby. Memory care communities specialize in dementia care and support for seniors.
If you’d like to learn more, contact us today!