Knowing how to communicate with someone who has dementia is not a simple skill but, thankfully, it is something you can learn.
Improving your communication skills will help make caregiving less difficult and will hopefully help you with your relationship with your loved one. Good communication skills will also provide support when handling any difficult behaviour that may occur as you care for a person with a dementing illness.
We’ve chatted to our fantastic trainers and have put together some tips on how to communicate with someone who has Dementia.
Before you speak
- Be aware of your surroundings. Try to ensure that the place is quiet with good lighting and not a lot of distractionsTurn off the TV or Radio so there is minimal noise.
- Before speaking to the individual make sure you have their attention, address them by their name, tell them your name and their relation to you, maintain good eye contact.
- Sit close to the person and make sure that your body language is open and relaxed, so your loved one feels relaxed. Also use facial expressions, tone of voice, and physical touch to get your message across and to show your feelings of affection.
- If the individual can communicate more at a certain time of day use this time to ask questions or talk about anything that you need too. Make the most of the ‘good’ days and find ways around the ‘bad’ days.
How to speak
- Make sure you speak clearly and calmly and use simple words and sentences. Try to speak at a slower pace and allow time in between each sentence to ensure that the individual can process what you have just said. This really helps them to communicate.
- Don’t raise your voice or speak sharply.
- Communicate with the individual in a conversational way instead of continually asking questions.
- Don’t talk about the person as if they aren’t there or as if they are young child, have respect for them. If there are misunderstandings try and laugh about them it can make the situation a little easier by adding a bit of humour into the situation, it can also help your relationship grow and relieve the pressure.
- Be mindful and sensitive to the person and don’t laugh at them.
- If you are talking to someone else try and include the individual into the conversation this stops them from feeling excluded. This can also help the person with dementia keep their sense of identity and feel valued.
What to say
- Avoid asking too many questions as they can confuse the person and can leave them agitated and withdrawn if they are unable to answer all the questions.
- Stick to one question at a time, while having the choice is important too many choices can confuse them.
- Try and stick to one choice at a time and phrase in a way they can answer yes or no for example “Would you like to go on a walk?” or in a way that gives them a choice “would you like tea or coffee?”.
- Don’t repeat your question if the person doesn’t understand what your saying rephrase it, or try and use non verbal communication to help e.g. pointing at a picture.
Listening to them
- Always listen carefully to what the person is saying and offer encouragement, if you haven’t fully understood what they have said rephrase what you have understood and check if you have understood correctly.
- Keep an eye on their facial reaction or body language. This is a good indicator to see if you have understood correctly. The expression on their face and their body language can often give you clear signs into how they are feeling that day.
- If the individual is struggling to find the correct word or finishing a sentence ask them to explain it another way.
- Always allow plenty of time for them to respond this is because it can take them longer to process the information and they need to work out how they are going to respond.
- Don’t interrupt them as it can break the pattern of communication. If they are feeling down, let them express their feelings, just listen to them and show them that you are there.
Body language and physical contact
For a individual with dementia, non- verbal communication is crucial and as their condition continues it will become one of the main ways they communicate.
- Be aware of what that person is communicating through their body language and support them to to keep engaged. They will be able to read your body language. Tense facial expressions or sudden movements could upset or distress them and can make communication difficult.
- Be aware of your facial expressions and body language and make sure they match what you are saying.
- Remember personal space and never stand too close to them or stand over them to speak to them as the individual can feel intimidated. Instead drop below them or below their eye level. This will help them feel more in control of the situation.
- Use physical contact to communicate your interest to give reassurance, you can really reassure someone by holding the persons hand or putting your arm around them if it feels appropriate.
Here at The Midlands Training Company we offer a course on communication if you would like to find out more information please click here https://www.themidlandstrainingcompany.co.uk/product/care-communication/ or call us on 02476 714 873.
You can also find a wealth of really useful information here https://www.alzheimers.org.uk/