It can be one of the hardest things to see someone you love and have counted on for a long time, and yet not be able to communicate with them. It’s safe to say dementia changes people, while also leaving parts of them more intact than ever before. Just because they don’t talk or act the way you remember, doesn’t mean your loved one isn’t in there somewhere. It might take a little more work to get them to come out of their “shell,” but it’s well worth the effort.
We’ve come up with some strategies that can help you reach the person we all know is hiding in there, but first, you have to:
Set Realistic Expectations
Don’t assume your loved one will be able to talk to you the way they always have, and don’t try to force them to do so, because that will just make things worse. People with dementia often have a hard time understanding others and communicating, so cut them some slack and avoid getting frustrated when you can’t understand them. Instead, try to come up with creative ways to convey what you’re saying, and the same goes for trying to understand their communications. Their sentences may be broken or they may try to use more hand gestures to convey their meaning, so just go with it and do your best to understand. This is hard for them, too.
Talk Somewhere Quiet
Find somewhere that’s quiet and free of distractions so both of you can focus on the conversation at hand.
Don’t use baby talk or speak to them in any other condescending way. Avoid getting agitated, and talk in a calm, level voice, but don’t ever talk down to them.
People with dementia can find conversation hard to follow when there are a lot of pronouns involved, so avoid using words like “he,” “she,” and “they.” Call them by their names, and the same goes for initiating a conversation. Don’t just say, “Hi, it’s me.” Instead, say, “Hi Grandpa, it’s Suzie.” Don’t make them guess because that will lead to frustration and anxiety. Make it easy for them and the whole interaction will go much more smoothly.
Take It One Thing at a Time
Don’t jump around from topic to topic, because they’ll be less likely to be able to follow you. Pick a subject and stick to it. By the same token, if your loved one changes the subject abruptly, just go with it. Don’t try to guide them back to what you were talking about, but listen to what they have to say. That’s the track their mind is on at the moment, so you’ll get the most out of following it, rather than trying to derail it.
Use Body Language
Nonverbal cues, such as smiling and maintaining eye contact, will help put your loved one at ease, no matter what stage of the disease they’re in. They may also find it difficult to use and interpret language as the disease progresses, so hand gestures and other nonverbal cues may be the best way to get them to understand you.
Be an Active Listener
Every conversation needs to have some give and take and that’s as true when talking with someone with dementia as it is of talking with anyone else. Always pay attention to what they’re saying and let them know (gently and calmly) if you don’t understand.
Trying to have a conversation with someone who has dementia is always going to be hard and there’s just no way around that. But with these tips, hopefully you can make the process a little easier.
Here at Stillwater Senior Living, we treat our residents like family. Our apartments include studio, one bedroom, and two bedroom suites. They are designed with security features, maximum accessibility, and include walk-out patois with a full range of amenities for the entire family.
CONTACT US today for more information and a tour of our beautiful state-of-the-art community.