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Navigating Communication Barriers with Dementia

by Shannon, December 31, 2018

As part of our series on dementia, we have focused on what the disease looks like, how to find support and dementia treatments. One key challenge for both dementia patients and loved ones is finding ways to communicate.

Dementia is known to affect memory and language significantly as the disease progresses, according to the Alzheimer’s Association. However, you can find ways to engage your loved one, boost his or her mood and give him or her a chance to express themselves freely and without agitation and anger, if for only a brief time.

Identifying Obstacles With Communication

As your loved one progresses into more severe stages of dementia, what you may notice is that communication becomes a challenge.

Although the changes may vary, most caregivers and family members notice that dementia patients experience the following:

  • Losing train of thought
  • Challenges with organizing words in a logical manner
  • Speaking less often throughout the day
  • Repeating familiar words
  • Struggles with finding the right words
  • Substituting descriptions for objects versus using appropriate names 

As dementia symptoms progress, many patients understand that they are struggling with communication and experience frustration or even aggression because they want to be able to remember the right words to use. As a result, this can be challenging and may even cause your loved one to sit silently versus engaging in conversations with you.

Approaching Communication Challenges With Grace

It’s difficult to try and comfort loved ones who are struggling with dementia symptoms and challenges with communication, but you can handle the task with grace. During the early stages of the disease, communication is not necessarily as challenging; however, once dementia patients progress into moderate or severe stages of dementia, being able to have meaningful conversations doesn’t come as easily as it used to be.

Here’s how you can help:

  • Do your best to include your loved one in conversations as much as possible
  • Avoid overlooking his or her need to have meaningful conversations
  • Speak directly to your loved one versus speaking about him or her to caregivers
  • Listen intently, even if it is difficult for him or her to express feelings, needs or thoughts
  • Ask how you can help when your loved one is struggling with communicating what he or she needs
  • Offer alternative ways to communicate, such as using a voice-activated device or electronic solution
  • Allow your loved one time to respond during conversations
  • Avoid interrupting if communication is difficult—patience is the best approach

Non-Verbal Communication Solutions

If your loved one has become withdrawn due to communication challenges, you may need to ramp up your efforts to keep him or her engaged. Instead of soaking up the silence, do your best to continue to engage him or her in one-on-one conversations.

It is likely that patients with progressing dementia symptoms are aware of the communication challenges and may avoid speaking when other people are present. You can help boost his or her confidence and overall mood by prompting conversations when it is just the two of you.

During this time, speak slowly and clearly and maintain constant eye contact to show that you are interested in what he or she is trying to say. Offer reassurance as the dementia patient tries to explain thoughts, feelings and needs.

Try not to overwhelm your loved one. Ask one question at a time and if communication is difficult, revert to yes or no questions. For example, instead of asking what he or she would like to eat, offer clear choices, such as “Would you like some toast?” 

When helping your loved one navigate daily tasks, it also helpful to offer step-by-step instruction so as not to overwhelm him or her. For example, you can give visual or verbal cues, or even provide written notes when communication gets confusing.

Conversation Starters for Dementia Patients

Mood is significantly altered when your loved one with dementia feels angry or depressed due to the inability to communicate. However, you can still engage him or her in conversations to help boost memory and assist with communication.

VeryWellHealth recommends launching conversations with these topics:

  • Discuss past memories related to work, family or friends
  • Ask about leisure activities he or she enjoys or has enjoyed in the past
  • Bring in a photo album and ask questions about what or who is pictured
  • Sift through old recipe boxes to find some of his or her favorite meals
  • Reminisce about past friendships or relationships
  • Read passages from a book to discuss
  • Talk about a current or former family pet
  • Display objects to start conversations and evoke memories from the past 

Remember that oftentimes, dementia patients are more likely to remember or discuss memories from the past, so you may find that they are more engaged when you bring up topics that seem familiar to them.

Dementia Support for All

Navigating communication that is limited can be trying for both dementia patients and their loved ones. That is why it is crucial that you find the support you both need. The qualified staff from Care Indeed can help. Lean on nurturing caregivers who can assist with engaging dementia patients in conversation, offer daily support for loved ones and family members, and help you with coping while navigating the disease.

Dementia symptoms can be trying for all involved but when you have the support you need, you can maximize the joy you have with your loved one. While you may struggle with grief and loss when coping with the symptoms as a patient, caregiver or family member, the support you need is only a click away.

Care Indeed is committed to providing you the support and in-home caregivers who understand your challenges and daily struggles at work and home. Learn more about how to get the support you need while living with Dementia today