Dementia is a disease that is affecting more and more people in the UK. With over 850,000 people suffering from some form of dementia, such as Alzheimer’s disease, and with that figure expected to rise to above 1 million by 2025, developing ways to communicate with those who have the degenerative brain disease is starting to become more vital than ever before.
Why is communicating with a person with Dementia difficult?
Communicating with those with dementia is very difficult as their brain is struggling to communicate within itself, due to the nerve cells that transmit messages being damaged. This is because Dementia is a degenerative brain disorder, and the cell damage in the brain makes it much harder for dementia sufferers to take in new information and formulate a response like a fully functioning brain can.
Memory loss is also prevalent, meaning they may not have a strong recollection of who you are, thus making communication very difficult. Alongside this, due to the nerve cell damage within the brain, you may find that their behaviour has changed - they may behave similarly to a child.
With Dementia affecting the everyday life of the patient and their loved ones, some people need some help in being able to communicate in what can be a difficult situation. Sova Healthcare has compiled a list of ten tips for communicating with a person with dementia.
1. Create a positive atmosphere
Your body language is very important when engaging with someone with dementia. It speaks volumes more than your own words. Use facial expressions, consider the tone of your voice and gentle, reassuring physical touching of the arm will help communicate your message and show your love and affection for them.
2. Keep the person’s attention
Keeping the focus of the person with dementia is vital to good communication, but as the disease progresses this can become increasingly challenging. Keep the TV or radio off, close the curtains, shut the door or move to a place that is free from any distraction. Make sure you have their attention, address them by their name whilst making sure they know who you are, and maintain eye contact with them.
3. Clearly state your messages
Keep your words and sentences as simple as possible. Speak slowly and with a reassuring tone. Keep your voice at a lower pitch and refrain from making it higher or louder, as you don’t want to startle them. If they do not understand your message the first time, use the same wording to repeat your message or question. If they are still struggling, wait for a period of time before saying it again. But remember, try not to lose patience with them, as this is not their fault.
4. Keep your questions simple
Those in the later stages of dementia often get easily confused, so you need to keep your questions as simple as possible. If you need a definitive answer, try not to ask open ended questions - yes or no questions work best. If you do need to ask a question that requires a choice, make the choices clear. Transparent options can help clarify exactly what you are asking.
5. Keep your ears, eyes and heart open
Your loved one may take time to reply so you need to be patient with them. Prompt them if they are struggling to answer a question. Do not show any impatience with your body language - be understanding. Don’t be surprised if they become impatient or frustrated - this is a challenging time for them. Try and be as patient and as understanding as possible.
6. Break everything down into manageable chunks and steps
Keeping tasks manageable for someone with dementia is vital - it isn’t easy for someone with dementia to be able to complete everyday tasks we often take for granted, without support from live-in carers, family members of visiting carers. This is because the brain is struggling to send messages, impacting their memory loss which hampers their recollection of each step. Encourage them, gently remind them of the steps and assist them with anything they cannot complete on their own. Make the steps visual so they picture exactly what you want them to do.
7. Distract and Redirect when Upset
It can be easy for a dementia sufferer to get upset or agitated as they struggle to complete what we often regard as a simplistic and mundane task. Alongside this, there is also the possibility that something happening around them (such as a change in furniture) that has impacted their mood. The best way to help a dementia patient who has become upset is by trying to change the subject, or removing them from environment that is making them upset. A great distraction could be to go for a walk. Be understanding with them, as this will reassure them, and remind them that you have their best interests at heart.
8. Be affectionate and reassuring
A common symptom of dementia is confusion and anxiety - as the dementia progresses, patients often struggle to differentiate between what is and isn’t real. This is where you will need to be affectionate and reassuring. Stay focused on the feelings they are trying to express and don’t convince them that everything they see is incorrect. At times, holding hands, hugging and touching can get some to respond.
A great way to communicate with a person with dementia is to take a trip down memory lane. They might not be able to remember something that happened 30 minutes ago, but they might clearly recall something from 30 years ago. Ask general questions about the person’s past instead of anything based on short-term memory.
10. Have a sense of humour
People struggling with dementia will usually retain their social skills and will love a good laugh. Just make sure the joke isn’t at their expense.
At Sova Healthcare, we are passionate about providing the best care and advice to you and your relative. If you have any queries regarding our dementia home care services or specialist care services that we provide, please contact us today.