One of the most challenging things my caregivers and I experience on a regular basis is the communication barrier that exists with our clients who have dementia or Alzheimer’s disease.
Fortunately, Daily Caring, an award-winning monthly newsletter for caregivers, landed in my inbox recently, and it provided a comprehensive list of communication tips for effectively engaging seniors with dementia.
- Ground yourself before engaging in dialogue. Like I said, it can be very challenging to communicate with a senior who has dementia, and it can dredge-up any number of emotions that can impact our behaviors. Take a moment to breathe and calm yourself before beginning a conversation.
- Stay positive, compassionate and calm. Seniors with dementia can detect our emotional state, especially if it does not mimic theirs. Always demonstrate a positive attitude toward this person you care about and reflect feelings of warmth and compassion during the precious time you spend together.
- Eliminate or minimize distractions. Even people without dementia get distracted by technology, television, radio, and young children. Consider how amplified these distractions become to a demented mind! Remove as many of these distractions as possible to improve communication with your senior living with dementia. Use “Quiet” or “Do Not Disturb” modes on devices, turn TV’s and radios off or turn-down the volume, and have children play outside or in a different room to improve focus during a conversation.
- Introduce yourself or be introduced by a caregiver. It’s tough when your senior loved one with dementia doesn’t remember you, and it may seem redundant to introduce yourself or be introduced by an in-home caregiver each time you visit. However, it is beneficial to their feelings of safety and well-being when you identify yourself and how you’re related. It may spark memories and help them feel more comfortable.
- Slow your speech for better understanding. Sometimes, it is easy to forget that you’re speaking with a senior suffering from dementia. If we speak at our standard pace, words can become lost or run-together to someone having difficulty processing them. Slow down and speak clearly so your words can be more clearly processed. Use short sentences and smaller words to minimize confusion, and pause after sentences to give the person to whom you are speaking time to process the information. These pauses may become longer or shorter, depending on the day.
- Say what you mean and mean what you say. Be direct about the subjects of your conversations and use specific names and relationships, or point directly at objects about which you speak, to be a clear as possible and enhance your senior loved one’s understanding.
- Never make assumptions. “It can be tempting to finish someone’s sentences or even assume that they don’t want to participate in a social activity. Avoid doing this as much as possible. Your older adult deserves to have a say in activities they participate in, as well as knowing you’re there for them. Interrupting or excluding sends a message that you do not believe they are capable of conversation or socialization,” states Daily Caring.
- Be an active listener. It’s important to engage seniors with dementia and it’s even more important to listen carefully to them. Nod your head and encourage them in positive ways during a conversation as a form of validation. You can see what works best between you and your senior loved one.
- Show courtesy by not interrupting or blocking a conversation. No one likes to be interrupted, but it can be especially challenging for seniors with dementia. Try not to ask “why” questions and forcing your senior loved one to have a conversation they’re not in the mood to have. Practice active listening and speak less.
- Redirection can help keep the peace. “Instead of trying to prevent someone from doing something potentially dangerous, work to redirect them towards a safer or more positive activity,” says Daily Caring.
- Always provide a choice between two answers and ask “yes” or “no” questions. It is easier for someone with dementia to become overwhelmed or confused if given too many choices, or when they’re asked open-ended questions. Keep it simple and less confusing by asking if they want soup or a sandwich for lunch, for example. Instead of asking what he/she wants to drink, be specific with a question that requires a “yes” or “no” answer, like “Would you like some water?”
- Be aware of your body language. Always try to make eye contact with seniors with dementia. This will help convey you are listening to them. Daily Caring recommends you “match your body language to the emotion you want to express.”
- Try using non-verbal forms of communication. Every individual is different, and this is especially true for seniors with dementia. Writing may be their preferred way to communicate, so they have more time to choose words and complete a thought. You may also consider engaging other senses in communication, too, like sight, sound, smell, taste, or touch.
- Simply being there is a comfort. The most important thing you can do is be there for your senior who has dementia. Spending time together can be a comfort to them and to you, because their time here is certainly limited.
Home Helpers® caregivers for seniors with dementia use these helpful communication tips to actively engage with them and avoid confusion. Highly-skilled and trained caregivers know to keep things as simple as possible, with no overstimulation to help them feel safe and comfortable.
If you have been diagnosed with dementia, or you know a senior with dementia who could benefit from an in-home caregiver, I am happy to schedule a FREE consultation to assess specific needs and concerns, and I can carefully match a compassionate caregiver to help.
We, at Home Helpers® Clearwater, are honored to have received the Home Care Pulse – Best of Home Care® Provider of Choice Award for the fifth consecutive year: 2017, 2018, 2019, 2020 & 2021. We proudly serve male and female seniors in Clearwater, Dunedin, Palm Harbor, Safety Harbor, Tarpon Springs, Holiday, New Port Richey, Trinity, Port Richey, Hudson and surrounding areas. Home Helpers®…we are Making Life Easier℠ 727.942.2539