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3 Effective Ways to Connect with Someone Who Has Dementia

by Vanessa Valerio, August 13, 2019

More than 50 million people worldwide suffer from dementia in any given year with the number expected to reach more than 130 million by 2050, according to Alzheimer’s Disease International. As the numbers continue to grow, the need to find ways to connect is crucial for maintaining these individual's ability to communicate with loved ones. 

Whether an immediate family member or a dear friend has been diagnosed with dementia, it’s important to fully understand how the disease affects behavior and communication.

How Dementia Affects Communication

According to the Alzheimer’s Association, a dementia patient’s ability to communicate diminishes over time as the disease progresses. That’s why, learning how to better communicate and most importantly, listen, can positively affect those you love coping with this chronic condition.

The most common changes to communication include:
  • Challenges with finding the right words to express thoughts and feelings
  • Commonly losing train of thought
  • Difficulty describing familiar objects or remembering names
  • Utilizing familiar words over and over again
  • Trouble organizing words in a logical fashion
  • Reverting to speaking less often and falling silent
  • Relying on hand or body gestures versus speaking
In the early stages of the disease, loved ones may find less disruption with communication, but as the condition develops, communication becomes a barrier, leading to frustration and even anger.

Tip #1: Include the Individual in Conversations

Even when a dementia patient is struggling to communicate or communicate logically, the worst thing you can do is talk as if he or she is not in the room. Instead of discussing issues with others, include your loved one in the conversation, no matter how difficult or trying it may be to understand his or her wishes.

A dementia patient may struggle with communication, but it is likely, especially during early stages of dementia, that he or she understands what is happening. Ask your loved one about care preferences, include him or her in casual conversations, and resist the urge to shut down communication just because it is difficult. It may be necessary to discuss preferred forms of communication. For example, does your loved one feel more comfortable communicating verbally or through electronic forms, such as text or email?

Individuals with dementia who feel as if they are being ignored may shut down, fall silent or experience anxiety, depression, or paranoia.

Tip #2: Give Your Loved One Undivided Attention

It’s easy to get distracted when you are multi-tasking and caring for a person with dementia. However, when communicating, it’s important to stop what you are doing and give the patient or family member your undivided attention. 

 When communicating, the Alzheimer’s Association suggests the following: 

  • Make eye contact
  • Remain patient until he or she is finished talking
  • Listen for cues stemming from tone of voice or body language
  • Ask only one question at a time
  • Rely on yes or no questions
  • Offer clear instructions in a step-by-step fashion
  • Give reassurance by nodding your head as he or she is speaking
  • Avoid correcting if the speech or words are not correct
  • Allow plenty of time for your loved one to respond to questions or requests

Tip #3: Show Respect

It can be frustrating as a family member or caregiver when your loved one gets frustrated while communicating. It is also possible that he or she will take out anger and frustration on you. Be patient and know that the disease is complicating his or her emotional and physical state. 

In fact, know that as dementia progresses, individuals often feel as if they are losing their self-worth and respect from others, according to the Crisis Prevention Institute. As a result, your loved one feels vulnerable and cares respect. 

While your communication mode may change, resist the temptation to approach someone with dementia as if they are a child, unable to care for themselves or even a burden. Offer praise, smile often, make eye contact and show that you care both verbally and non-verbally. 

Finding the Support and Care You Need

A physical illness or disease can affect individuals at any stage of life and age. In some cases, the symptoms may be mild, but many disorders, such as dementia, can also be life threatening.

This is why support and care is essential at the onset of any type of discomfort for your aging parent or loved one. And, a team effort ensures that you – or a loved one – will navigate chronic conditions in comfort.

It’s important to learn as much about the symptoms and care needed to help support your loved ones. Tap into resources from local and national organizations to boost your knowledge of how the disorder affects everyone involved and to also identify coping skills. In addition, lean on caregivers, such as the qualified staff from Care Indeed, to help with daily living, while coordinating palliative care.

Life with any type of illness is challenging and learning how to accept the challenge is the first step in living life. 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 today.