Your loved one with dementia might have days in which he seems to be lost in his own world. No matter what you try, you cannot break through that shell. He looks right through you and says nothing. You wonder if you will ever have another meaningful conversation with him, even if he remembers who you are.
Depending on his stage of Alzheimer’s or some other form of dementia, the following tips for communicating with a dementia patient might help you to open the shell from time to time. Do not expect earth-shattering results overnight. These communication techniques for dementia require patience and practice.
- Have realistic expectations. There is still no cure for dementia. Your loved one’s disease will get worse, not better. She cannot help it or control it. The disease is changing her brain. She is not shutting you out intentionally.
- Highs and lows. While in general, his condition will decline, he will still have some good days. When he has a more lucid day than usual, however, brace yourself for the reality that tougher days will follow.
- Avoid the abstract. Rather than referring to the holidays, identify what you mean in concrete terms, like Thanksgiving or Christmas. Use the names of people as your loved one thinks of them. For example, if you are talking to your grandmother, use your mother’s actual name instead of calling her Mom. This will help your grandmother to not get confused and think that you meant your great-grandmother. You should also use your own name when you greet your loved one, like, “Hi, Grandma. It’s me, Susan.”
- Keep the conversation on one topic at a time. Talking with a dementia patient is no time to hop around from one subject to another. Pick a topic and stick with it for a while. Jumping from one thing to the next too quickly will make your loved one conversationally dizzy.
- How you speak matters. Speak clearly and at a moderate pace. Enunciate your words. Pay attention to whether you mumble or drop off at the end of your sentences. Do not speak too loudly. Shouting at a confused person only exacerbates the stress and confusion. Do not patronize or condescend. Be respectful and kind.
- Give him time to answer. Sometimes people think that a person with dementia is non-verbal, when in reality, they did not give him enough time to respond. The disease is damaging areas of his brain, so it might take longer for him to process your words, formulate a response and come up with the words to express his answer. Slow down and give him a chance to participate in the conversation.
- Do not nitpick. It does not matter if she makes a mistake or remembers something incorrectly. No one likes to be put under a microscope. Do not correct every little misstatement that she makes. Just enjoy the fact that you are having another conversation with her. If you constantly correct her, she might give up and stop talking to you.
- Do everything in your power to make the visit calm and pleasant. One day, you will only have your memories of these times with your loved one. Focus on the things that are important – making happy memories and letting him know that you care about him. The rest is just details.
If your loved one suffers from dementia, be sure to meet with an elder law attorney near you.
A Place for Mom. “Communication Strategies for Dementia.” (accessed September 28, 2018) https://www.aplaceformom.com/blog/communication-with-a-loved-one-with-dementia/