How to Communicate with someone who has Dementia
The Alzheimer’s Association offers suggestions for ways to approach and help someone with dementia that make it easier for both parties. Experts say that it’s important to remember to respect people with dementia and avoid talking down to them or around them, instead of to them. You can best meet these challenges by using creativity, flexibility, patience and compassion. It also helps to not take things personally and maintain your sense of humor.
When first approaching a person with dementia:
• Identify yourself. Approach the person from the front and keep good eye contact; if the person is seated or reclined, go down to that level.
• Call the person by name. It helps orient the person and gets his or her attention.
• Use short, simple words and sentences. Lengthy requests or stories can be overwhelming. Ask one question at a time.
• Speak slowly and distinctively. Use a gentle and relaxed tone—a lower pitch is more calming.
• Patiently wait for a response. The person may need extra time to process what you said.
• Repeat information or questions as needed. If the person doesn’t respond, wait a moment. Then ask again.
• Turn questions into answers. For example, say “The bathroom is right here,” instead of asking, “Do you need to use the bathroom?”
• Encourage unspoken communication. If you don’t understand what is being said, ask the person to point or gesture. You may need to be more aware of nonverbal messages, such as facial expressions and body language. You may have to use more physical contact, such as reassuring pats on the arm, or smile as well as speaking.
• Be patient and supportive. Let the person know you’re listening and trying to understand. Show the person that you care about what he or she is saying and be careful not to interrupt.
• Avoid criticizing or correcting. Don’t tell the person what he or she is saying is incorrect. Instead, listen and try to find the meaning in what is being said. Repeat what was said if it helps to clarify the thought.
• Offer a guess. If the person uses the wrong word or cannot find a word, try guessing the right one.
• Focus on feelings, not facts. Sometimes the emotions being expressed are more important than what is being said. Look for the feelings behind the words. At times, tone of voice and other actions may provide clues.
• Turn negatives into positives. Instead of saying, “Don’t go there,” say, “Let’s go here.”
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