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5 Tips For Communicating With A Loved One With Dementia

At Laurel Parc, we are intimately familiar with how painful it is to witness the deterioration of a loved one that has Alzheimer’s or another form of dementia. When this debilitating disease progresses, we bear witness as minor forgetfulness morphs into a serious impairment. As this disease takes hold, it’s on the family and caretakers to adapt in order to be able to communicate with their loved one with dementia. Here’s a few strategies to keep in mind as we all try to work with this debilitating condition.

Compassionate Communication With A Person With Dementia

Many people tend to describe loved ones consumed by the later stages of dementia as an ‘empty shell of a person,’ but this couldn’t be further from the truth. Dementia does absolutely transform the people we love into shadows of their former selves, but those living with the disease are far from “empty shells.” There may be days where that shell is difficult to open, if it opens at all. But let’s never forget the amazing, brilliant person that lives inside when we can break through that shell.

Part of the challenge is understanding how to open the shell and get those opportunities to meaningfully connect with our dementia-addled loved one– even if it’s for a moment. However, armed with the right effective communication tools and techniques, you can communicate and connect emotionally with a loved one that has dementia. Here’s a few tips to make it easier to forge those connections with your loved one:

Be Honest With Yourself. Recognize What You’re Up Against

It’s easy to fall into the cycle of denial and forget that dementia inevitably gets worse with time. People who have dementia will gradually have difficulty understanding and communicating with others.

Aim For A Distraction-Free Environment

Try to find a place and time to talk to your loved one when there isn’t a lot going on. As the disease progresses, distractions will take up more and more of their mental energy. By eliminating distractions, it allows your loved one to focus entirely on the conversation.

Speak Naturally And Clearly In A Calm Voice

Your loved one is still an adult. Refrain from using baby talk or other forms of condescension

Keep Things Simple

Conversations should be short, simple, and to the point. Try to refer to things by their proper name (when you see a cute dog on a walk, call it a “dog” instead of “it”). Another thing, being confronted with too many choices can be frustrating to folks with dementia, so avoid open-ended questions. Instead of asking “What would you like for lunch?” it would be better to ask “Would you like a sandwich for lunch?”

Avoid Arguments And Conflict

Arguing with a person who is afflicted with dementia or Alzheimer’s is a frustrating experience for everyone and should be avoided at all costs. You won’t win the argument and the situation will only serve to agitate both of you and drive disconnection instead of meaningful connection.

No matter what stage of dementia your loved one is in, communication and connection is vital to any human being’s well-being. We’re hardwired for connection, it’s part of our biology. Folks with dementia just have a few more challenges, so dig deep, bring out your empathy, and work hard to establish meaningful moments with the people you love.