Informal caregivers of those with Alzheimer’s and other dementias often bring up the challenges they have trying to communicate with their loved ones. Most don’t understand that many suffer from expressive aphasia which means they simply can’t find the words they’re looking for when trying to converse. What makes matters worse is that they may also suffer from receptive aphasia which means, regardless of how slowly, clearly and even loudly we speak, they may not be able to understand us. In the later stages of the disease, they will confabulate or just mumble or speak in jibberish.
Our job as caregivers is to do the best we can to be translators or interpreters for them. Clearly it can be a challenge so with that in mind I thought I’d share the following tips that I found on the “Senior Living Blog provided by “A Place for Mom.”
Here are 10 tips on how to effectively communicate with someone who has moderate to severe dementia.
- Recognize what you’re up against. Dementia inevitably gets worse with time. People with dementia will gradually have a more difficult time understanding others, as well as communicating in general.
- Avoid distractions. Try to find a place and time to talk when there aren’t a lot of distractions present. This allows your loved one to focus all their mental energy on the conversation.
- Speak clearly and naturally in a warm and calm voice. Refrain from ‘babytalk’ or any other kind of condescension.
- Refer to people by their names. Avoid pronouns like “he,” “she,” and “they” during conversation. Names are also important when greeting a loved one with dementia. For example: “Hi, Grandma. It’s me, Jeff,” is to be preferred over, “Hi. It’s me.”
- Talk about one thing at a time. Someone with dementia may not be able to engage in the mental juggling involved in maintaining a conversation with multiple threads.
- Use nonverbal cues. For example, maintain eye contact and smile. This helps put your loved one at ease and will facilitate understanding. And when dementia is very advanced, nonverbal communication may be the only option available.
- Listen actively. If you don’t understand something your loved one is telling you, politely let them know.
- Don’t quibble. Your conversations are not likely to go very far if you try to correct every inaccurate statement your loved one makes. It’s okay to let delusions and misstatements go.
- Have patience. Give your loved one extra time to process what you say. If you ask a question, give a moment to respond. Don’t let frustration get the better of you.
- Understand there will be good days and bad days. While the general trend of dementia sufferers is a downward decline, people with dementia will have ups and downs just like anyone else.
One more recommendation that I’d make is that when you do speak with them don’t come up behind them. In fact it’s best if you can sit in front of them at their eye level. Hold their hand, if they’re ok with that with your hand on top and always remember that your facial expressions can be more telling than your words. It’s also critical that you always pay attention to your body language as they will take cues from your folded arms, your cocked head along with your facial expressions and the tone of your voice.
As with young children, you will learn to read their cues as well. When he stand up and starts to rock back and forth it could be a cue to visit the bathroom. Are they restless and wringing their hands? Perhaps they are anxious having to deal with a loud environment.
Be patient and sensitive with them. Impatience and frustration on your part will only result in adding to their confusion and perhaps their aggravation.
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