Speaking their language: Enhancing Communication with Elders Living with Dementia
Social isolation is one of the most common and heartbreaking experiences those with dementia face as they struggle with the disease. But it doesn’t have to be that way. Many people experiencing cognitive decline can lead lives of value, purpose, and connection. The key to unlocking meaningful engagement lies with their family and loved ones learning to better understand dementia and how it affects communication patterns and then adapt accordingly.
The National Institute on Aging defines dementia as the loss of cognitive functioning — thinking, remembering and reasoning — to such an extent that it interferes with a person’s daily life and activities. It can range in severity as it progresses over time and affects millions of people worldwide but especially those 85 years and older. There are several different types of dementia with Alzheimer’s disease being the most common. Frontotemporal, Lewy Body, vascular and mixed dementias are other types of dementia that can affect an individual’s ability to process and express thoughts, leading to frustration and challenges in interpersonal connections.
However, by adopting a few specific techniques and fostering a compassionate environment, we can greatly enhance communication and maintain meaningful connections with our loved ones living with dementia.
- Maintain a calm and patient demeanor: Approach conversations with a calm and patient attitude, as frustration or hurriedness can worsen their confusion. Speak slowly and clearly, allowing them enough time to process and respond.
- Use simple and concise language: Opt for clear and straightforward language, avoiding jargon, complex sentences, and abstract concepts. Break down information into smaller, easily digestible pieces. This helps them understand and engage in conversations more effectively.
- Ask simple questions: Instead of overwhelming them with open-ended questions, ask questions that can be answered with a “yes” or “no” to make it easier for them to participate. For instance, “Would you like some tea?” or “Are you feeling comfortable?”
- Utilize visual cues and gestures: Visual aids, such as photographs or objects, can assist in triggering memories and making conversations more meaningful. Using gentle touches and non-verbal cues like nodding or smiling can also help convey your understanding and support.
- Be an attentive listener: Pay close attention to their verbal and non-verbal cues to understand their needs and feelings. Show empathy and validate their emotions. Even if their words may not make complete sense, respond kindly and respectfully.
Remember, with patience, empathy and effective communication skills, we can foster meaningful connections and improve the overall quality of life and well-being for those with dementia
For more information and resources on dementia go to caringkindnyc.org.
For high-caliber caregivers who have well-honed communication skills working with those who have dementia consider Holistic HomeCare Associates.
For aging life care navigation and care management go to www.aginglifecare.org to source a professional near you.
Anne C. Sansevero RN, MA, GNP, CCM