Communication and Dementia

Communicating our needs, wishes and feelings is vital not only to maintain our quality of life, but also to preserve our sense of identity. Communication is much more than verbal. It is also gestures, facial expressions and touch. As the disease progresses and language skills are lost, nonverbal communication becomes more and more important. Below are some tips on communication and strategies used to help maintain a consistent and calm environment.

Verbal Communication Tips

  • Identify yourself – never assume the person can remember who you are
  • Speak slowly, clearly and calmly
  • Watch the volume of your voice – a loud voice can be perceived as angry
  • Use short, simple sentences
    • Break down tasks into small, step-by-step directions
    • Avoid complex questions – questions requiring a yes or no answer are easiest
      • “Would you like a coffee?” not “What would you like to drink?”
  • Give the person time to respond and don’t rush them
  • Make sure you have the individuals attention and that they are focusing on you
  • Try to make eye contact
  • Minimize distractions:
    • Television
    • Radio/music
    • Other people’s conversation

Body Language

  • People with dementia are very observant of body language
  • Remain patient and calm – avoid fidgeting or other nervous habits
  • Don’t stand over the person as this can seem intimidating – if an individual is sitting, lower yourself to eye level
  • If the person is comfortable with body contact patting or holding the person’s hand can be reassuring

Communication Strategies

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Behaviors and Dementia

All behaviors have meaning! When a person enters the early stages of dementia they start to lose the ability to find the words needed to express themselves, this is usually vented through some form of behavior. Example: Doris takes all of her clothes out of her closet on a daily basis. Look to find the need that Doris is trying to meet. She could be trying to stay busy/productive or maybe her clothing isn’t comfortable and she can’t communicate this with words. Behavioral changes will happen throughout the disease and can range from something that is merely annoying (repetitive questions) to agitated (pacing, yelling) to combative (hitting,spitting). The unpredictability of these changes can be extremely stressful for the caregiver but anticipating the behavioral changes and understanding the underlying cause can help deal with them more effectively.