Effective Communication and Dementia: How do I Communicate With My Loved One?

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Jul 27, 2015

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Connecticut - Southern Connecticut

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When an individual is diagnosed with Alzheimers disease or another type of dementia, it can be a confusing time. Family members, friends and the individual being diagnosed may wonder, what will happen next? What can I expect? What does it all mean?
One of the most important things to remember as someone begins their journey through dementia is that the person inside still remains. However, family, friends, and caregivers, need to understand the disease and learn how to best interact with their loved one.
Communication is a key area to focus on when interacting with individuals with dementia. Changes in communication that may occur include:
Difficulty expressing their thoughts and feelings
Having a hard time finding the right words
Trouble understanding and interpreting what others are saying
Communication can be challenging; and it is an important piece of our day to day life. When communicating with someone who has dementia, it is important to be supportive and help the person feel comfortable.
In order to communicate effectively with your loved one, remember the following tips:
Remain positive. You can help set the tone for a positive interaction. Being patient, supportive and upbeat is key. Offer comfort and reassurance. Smile!
Shift the way you think about communicating. We are educated on using manners and always asking people How are you? But, for individuals with dementia this question may be difficult to answer. Instead, try saying Hi, its nice to see you.
Call the person by name and introduce yourself. For example, try saying: Hi Mom, its your daughter Sara. This can eliminate confusion they may experience if they dont recognize you.
Enter their world. Individuals with dementia often arent oriented to current place and time, and their short term memory is not what it once was. Instead, reminisce and revisit old memories.
Avoid arguing, criticizing or correcting. If you disagree with something your loved one is saying, dont argue, it will only leave you both feeling frustrated. Go with the flow and dont try to correct what they are saying. Instead, validate them and lead the conversation in a different direction, if possible.
Use short simple words and sentences. Simplify your words. This will allow for less information for your loved one to process.
Encourage unspoken communication. We can communicate non-verbally as well, through our facial expressions and body language. A smile, a hug, or a handshake allows for positive expression without using any words.

As your loved one journeys through dementia, understand that their brain is changing. Each person is unique and may react to things differently. The more you understand the more success you will have communicating with your loved one.
Live in the moment, embrace the present and treasure the memories.
Editors Note:
This article was submitted by
Stacy B. Kesl, BA, CDP
Dementia Specialist
Athena Health Care Systems
Stacy has over 10 years experience working in Dementia Care and loves educating staff and families on dementia.
She can be reached at (860) 751-3900

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