How to Communicate with Someone with Dementia

For someone who is not used to it, talking to someone with Dementia can feel awkward and frustrating. Sometimes, people don’t know what to say to a person with Dementia, or they may feel like they have nothing to talk about, even with people who have been in their lives for a while. Many people also find it upsetting to try to talk to a loved one who was once conversant and articulate but now has difficulty engaging.

Dementia affects the parts of the brain that control language. A person living with the condition may have slower speed of thought, or not be able to process complex ideas. This can affect their ability to communicate; for example, they may take longer to gather their thoughts and work out how to respond in a conversation. As the disease progresses, these communication difficulties will typically worsen.

Communicating with someone living with Dementia may be challenging, but it’s not impossible. It’s also extremely important that a person with Dementia has social interaction; so don’t give up! If one of your loved ones is living with Dementia, try the following tips:

Consider the Surroundings & Situation

  • Ensure you are in a good place to talk. People living with Dementia will find it easier to communicate in an area that is quiet, with good lighting and without too many distractions (for example, make sure there’s no radio or TV on in the background).
  • Make sure you have the person’s full attention before starting a conversation.
  • Put yourself in a position where the person can see you as clearly as possible, and try to be on the same level as them or below their eye level. Don’t stand over them to communicate, as this can intimidate the person.
  • Sit close to the person and make eye contact with them. However, be aware of the person’s personal space and don’t get too close if they are uncomfortable.
  • Approach the person with open and relaxed body language.
  • Ensure you have made enough time for the person so that the conversation doesn’t feel rushed.
  • Think about what you may like to talk about beforehand. If you’re not too sure, speak to the person’s primary carers, as they will have more of an idea of topics that may be interesting to them. You can also try using the environment to inspire topics.
  • If there is a time of day where the person is more alert and more able to communicate (e.g. in the morning), try to arrange your visits at this time so that both parties get more value from the interaction. 

Speak Clearly, Calmly & Mindfully

  • Speak at a slightly slower pace than you normally would. Also, pause between sentences to give the person time to process the information you have said and respond. While this may seem unnatural to you, it is important for a person with Dementia’s ability to communicate.
  • Try to use short, simple sentences and communicate in a conversational way. Don’t ask question after question as this can feel interrogatory for a person living with Dementia.
  • Try to laugh together, as humour can help to relieve any tension and help bring you closer together. However, make sure the person does not feel like you are laughing at them.
  • If other people are in the room, try to include everyone in the conversation. For a person with Dementia, feeling included can help retain a sense of identity and feeling of being valued.
  • Don’t raise your voice or speak harshly.
  • Don’t talk to the person like a child. Make sure you are patient and treat them with respect.

Use Your Body Language

  • For a person living with Dementia, non-verbal communication is extremely important. As the condition progresses, non-verbal communication often becomes one of the main ways for the person to communicate. Learn to recognise the person’s body language so that you know what they are communicating with their signals. This is the best way to support them in staying engaged as Dementia progresses.
  • Similarly, a person with Dementia will read your body language. As such, sudden movements or tense facial expressions should be avoided as this may upset or distress them.
  • Ensure your body language and facial expressions mirror what you are saying to avoid confusion.
  • As long as the person is comfortable, use physical touch to show that you are engaged in the conversation and to provide reassurance. Effective touch techniques can let the care recipient know they are valued. 

Be Sure to Listen

  • When communicating to your loved one, make sure you are not doing all the talking. Listen carefully to what the person is saying (even if this is through non-verbal communication) and offer encouragement.
  • If the person with Dementia is having difficulty finding the right word or completing their sentence, try to encourage them to explain what they are trying to say in a different way.
  • If you are struggling to understand the person, listen out for clues and pay attention to their body language. Their facial expressions and the way they hold themselves can indicate how they are feeling and what they are trying to communicate.
  • It can take a person with Dementia much longer to process information and figure out how to respond. Give them enough time to gather their thoughts and make sure you don’t interrupt them, as this can break their pattern of communication.
  • Most importantly, if the person seems sad or upset, ensure you are listening to them and communicating that you are there for them. Do not dismiss their worries; instead, try to reassure them.

We hope that this article has provided some useful insight to people who are not familiar with how to interact with someone with Dementia and that it can help them to be more confident in communications with them.

If you’re caring for someone with Dementia, Brain Sparks’ Dementia Live® course may be of benefit to you. The course immerses carers in the experience of living with Dementia to give them powerful insights for effectively communicating with those in their care.

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