Communicating with a loved one with dementia can be daunting. In conversation, they often forget words, lose their train of thoughts, and become confused.
Nevertheless, it’s vital to keep up communication and maintain a connection to improve their quality of life.
Here’s how you can help them manage.
Why does dementia affect communication?
Dementia targets the brain’s left temporal lobe, which stores crucial linguistic functions and information such as vocabulary first learned during adolescence. When this area becomes affected, these communication skills are lost.
Consequently, dementia patients often struggle to articulate their thoughts, or fail to make sense of them in the first place.
In addition, dementia also impairs other senses such as sight and hearing that are important for successful communication.
How to help someone with dementia in conversation
When talking to someone with dementia, there are a few strategies you can pursue to make conversations easier.
First, take the initiative and start talking to them. People with dementia often know that their own communication skills are impaired, and also that many people find that frustrating.
Consequently, they can be reticent to take the first step.
A great way to go is to pick a topic that you know they love and have in-depth knowledge of.
When talking to them, keep your sentences succinct and simple. Avoid listing several options or forming complicated grammatical constructions.
Talk slowly and enunciate clearly, then wait patiently for a response. Don’t interrupt them when they do speak. If necessary, rephrase what you’ve said to make it easier to understand.
Non-verbal ways of helping
While you speak with them, keep your posture relaxed, your face open and calm, and your voice steady and warm.
Avoid showing frustration or irritation. This type of negative feedback can distress your interlocutor and impair their self-confidence.
If the conversation does affect you negatively, take a step back to collect yourself before re-engaging.
During your conversation, stay at eye level with them and maintain reassuring eye contact. Don’t stand over them or have them look down at you. Stay where they can easily see you, and avoid doing anything else during your conversation. Multitasking can wait for later.
Finally, if it feels appropriate, accompany your words with mimed gestures to make things clearer. Especially if the person you’re talking to is also experiencing auditory issues, this is a good strategy to pursue.
Keeping up communication with a loved one suffering from dementia can be a challenge. With the right strategies, though, you can overcome it.
We asked Lifted, a specialist in dementia care based in London, about their insights: “Remember to note other contributing details to what they are trying to say, such as their movement, and persevere until you understand the meaning of what they are saying. Start this observation from a place of knowing your loved one as well as you do. Lifted Carers are trained and experienced in reading these signals, and it is essential to have the same familiarity as a family member.”