Communicating with Dementia
Dementia will gradually affect the way a person communicates and interacts with the community. Their ability to present rational ideas and to reason clearly will change. The process can take years and requires knowledge to be able to understand their needs and make life for those affected easier and more enjoyable. It is not an easy task. The right attitude can make the dementia patient feel respected and loved. And when people feel accepted, they generally become more open and agreeable.
So, how do we communicate with someone with dementia?
Firstly, it is important to accept the diagnosis, understand that the condition is irreversible and not to fight against it. Accept that the change the person has gone through is irreversible, so try to find new ways to communicate. There are other ways to communicate that do not require words… It is said that communicating our feelings can be divided into three parts: 55% consists of our body language, gestures, and facial expression, 38% is made up of the tone and pitch of our voice, and only 7% is the words we use. It is important to use more than simply words to get through to dementia patients. Use all the tools available.
Try to treat the person as normally as possible when talking to them. The person might need a bit more time to understand what you say, so be patient. Keep it simple, use shorter sentences, and allow plenty of time. Look them in the eye and perhaps hold their hands to get their attention. Try to help them remember names and memories in a positive way, perhaps relating a name to a memory instead of asking if they remember the person or the situation. For example, instead of asking, “Do you remember Jack?” say, “This is Jack, your classmate from school”… By associating the name to a memory, you are providing them with small details which they can appreciate. A positive attitude will make all the difference.
Know what to avoid doing. Avoid arguing, being bossy, or patronising towards a person with dementia. Asking questions about recent memories such as, “What did you have for lunch?” can also be frustrating as the short term memory diminishes quite quickly. Instead, ask about events that are in the long term memory such as what they did when they were 18 or 20 years of age. These memories are retained for much longer.
It is an everyday challenge, but it can be extremely rewarding when we can help our loved ones connect with us for longer, despite their memories fading away.