Caring for a loved one with dementia poses many challenges for families and caregivers. People with dementia from conditions such as Alzheimer’s and related diseases have a progressive biological brain disorder that makes it
more and more difficult for them to remember things, think clearly, communicate with others, or take care of themselves. In addition, dementia can cause mood swings and even change a person’s personality and behavior. I want to share with you some of the techniques that I have found helpful and useful that may help you in caring for a person with dementia. Communication can be almost impossible and even more frustrating to the caregiver than any other aspect of caregiving. There really isn’t a right or wrong way to interact, but maybe there is a more effective way.
We aren’t born knowing how to communicate with a person with dementia—but 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 with dementia.
First and foremost, set a positive mood for interaction. Your attitude and body language communicate your feelings and thoughts stronger than your words. Speak to your loved one in a pleasant and calm tone. Use facial expressions and physical touch to help convey your message and show your feelings of affection.
Next, get the person’s attention. Focus is important. Try to limit distractions and noise—turn off the
radio or TV, close the curtains or shut the door, or move to quieter surroundings. Before speaking, make sure you have their attention; address by name, identify yourself , and use nonverbal cues and touch to keep focus. Always state your message clearly. Use simple words and sentences. Speak slowly, distinctly and in a reassuring tone. Refrain from raising your voice higher or louder; instead, pitch your voice lower. If the message is not understood the first time, use the same wording to repeat your message or question. If still not understood, wait a few minutes and try again. Avoid using unidentifiable words such as “she, they, them etc. .Ask simple, answerable questions. Ask one question at a time
with yes or no answers. Refrain from giving to many choices which can cause increased confusion. For example, ask, “Would you like to wear your white shirt or your blue shirt?” Visual prompts such as showing the two choices enhance clarity. Limiting choices limits frustration.
One of the most important things you can do is to listen with your ears, eyes and heart. Be patient in waiting for your
loved one’s reply. If struggling for an answer, it’s okay to suggest words. Watch for nonverbal cues and body language, and respond appropriately. Always strive to listen for the meaning and feelings that underlie the words.
Break down activities into a series of steps. This makes many tasks much more manageable. You can encourage your loved one to do what they can, gently reminding of the steps forgotten, and assist with steps that can not be completed. Always use visual cues when possible. When tasks become almost impossible and frustration sets in, distract and redirect. If a conversation seems to be overwhelming, try changing the subject or the environment.
Feelings matter. It is not the goal to cause more agitation or frustration, but rather be mindful that It is important to always connect with the person on their emotional level by reassuring them. People with dementia often
feel confused, anxious and unsure of themselves. Further, they often get reality confused and may recall things that never really occurred. Avoid trying to convince them they are wrong. Stay focused on the feelings they are demonstrating (which are real) and respond with verbal and physical expressions of comfort, support and reassurance.
It is important to remember that most dementia patients can recall their past easier than their present. They may not recall what happened ten minutes ago, but can recall events from 1965 with ease and clarity. When all else fails, talk about the past, the places, the people, the good times. Stay in the moment that the person is in.
Always keep trying to connect with your loved one and always remember the great quote by Maya Angelou. There is great profound truth to be heard in her message.
“I’ve learned that people will forget what you said, people will forget what you did, but people will never forget how you made them feel.” – Maya Angelou