Instantly knowing how to communicate with a person living with dementia isn’t easy but it’s a skill we can learn. Improving your communication skills will help make caregiving less stressful and will likely improve the quality of your relationship with your loved one. Good communication skills will also enhance your ability to handle the difficult behavior you may encounter as you care for a person living with dementia.
- Setting a positive mood before interaction is important. Ensure that your loved one is in a safe and familiar environment, a place where they won’t be anxious. This could be in their home, their room in a care facility or their favourite place like the garden or beach. However, you need to be careful to avoid distractions, choose an environment where your loved one can give you their full attention, this might mean switching off the TV or radio.
- Your body language says more than you think. Use happy facial expressions, a calm tone of voice and gentle physical touch to help your message and show your feelings of affection. Try to refrain from baby talk, as this could come across as belittling which may cause your loved one to be upset. Be mindful of your attitude and not just what you need to say. When in doubt, just smile.
- Listen to what your loved one is trying to say, even though it may feel frustrating. If you don’t understand something your loved one is telling you, politely let them know. Try not to get upset and bicker, your conversations are not likely to go very far if you try to correct every inaccurate statement your loved one makes. It’s okay to let delusions and misstatements go.
- Ensure that your message is being articulated clearly. Try your best to use simple words and sentences. The conversation will be much more engaging if you speak slowly, distinctly and in a reassuring tone. Refrain from raising your voice higher or louder; instead, pitch your voice lower. If your loved one doesn’t understand the first time, use the same wording to repeat your message or question. If they still don’t understand, wait a few minutes and rephrase the question. Ask one question at a time; those with yes or no answers work best and refrain from asking open-ended questions or giving too many choices.
- Patience is the most important thing to have when it comes to communicating with your loved one. Give your loved one extra time to process what you say. If you ask a question, give a moment to respond. Don’t let frustration get the better of you. Always remember that there will be good days and bad days. While the general trend of dementia sufferers is a downward decline, people with dementia will have ups and downs just like anyone else. Being patient with them will help build a loving and lasting relationship with your loved one.