Seven ways to communicate effectively with seniors who have dementia

Knowing how to communicate and connect with dementia patients through this period is of great importance.


It is ineffably painful to witness your loved one with Alzheimer’s disease or any other dementia type deteriorate. Minor forgetfulness gradually transforms into severe impairment as the disease progresses, and eventually, their individuality becomes compromised. People with dementia suffer from memory loss, difficulty in expressing themselves, and it becomes hard to understand them.


To help communicate more effectively, here is an exclusive look at 7 ways to communicate with seniors who have dementia.


  1. Use their preferred titles and names

Find out the preferred name of the person and use it. You should be careful when using terms such as ‘sweetheart,' ‘honey,' or similar names. You may use it genuinely for affection, but it can also come across as condescending or demeaning to a person with dementia.


  1. Always make eye contact and smile

In dementia, a genuine smile makes the patient feel reassured that you are friendly and reduces the chances of expressing a challenging behaviour. Making eye contact and a warm smile are the two essential factors in non-verbal communication and shows that you are glad to be with him or her. You can also consider using a gentle touch on the shoulder or holding their hand when talking as a way to communicate that you care about them.


  1. Don't infantilise the person

When communicating with seniors who have dementia, you should never try to infantilise the person. This simply means that you should not treat him or her as a child or infant. People talking to infants tend to use a high-pitched tone and go close to the face of the baby. While this is suitable for communicating with infants, it’s not appropriate for communicating with adults. Treat the seniors suffering with dementia with honor and use a respectful tone regardless of their level of dementia or how much they can or cannot understand. Use a normal clear tone of voice rather than yelling to the patient. If they do not respond, you can increase the volume slightly.


  1.   Don't use figures of speech or slang

Seniors who have dementia find it challenging to understand what you are saying as the condition progresses. A good example is telling a senior with Alzheimer’s disease that it is of no use to cry over spilled milk. This might make him or her to start looking for the milk that has spilled. Rather than that, you should comfort them by encouraging them not to concentrate on a past problem. In fact, one of the ways of screening for dementia symptoms is requesting the test taker to interpolate such proverbs and abstract ideas.


  1. Put yourself at their level

Rather than standing up straight and looking down to a senior who might be seated, its advisable to bend down and position yourself at the same level as they are. Though this might make you physically uncomfortable, it will encourage a more respectful and comfortable conversation. Remember these are still seniors it even though they have dementia.


  1. Don't ignore the person

In cases where you have a question, ask the senior with dementia before you turn to the family to give them a chance to answer. More so, do not converse about the person as though he or she is not there. They may be understanding more than you think, so show your respect by addressing them directly.


  1. Be an active listener and avoid interrogating

If you have not understood what they are trying to communicate, ask them gently to repeat what they are saying. More so, limit your questions to just a few as your goal is to give encouragement rather than firing endless questions at them. These questions might be hard for them to answer. When you ask a question, be patient and let them process what you said and respond. Do not let frustration take you over. Do not be quibble to try and correct every incorrect statement they make. Just let the misstatements and delusions go.


The project coordinator at FirstCare Nursing Nome Kildare, Jane Byrne, points out that communicating with patients suffering from dementia, may be difficult but we also have to consider that it wasn’t their choice to have this degenerative disease.


The key to increasing your success when speaking to seniors with dementia is infusing your communication with genuine warmth and respect. Ensure you don’t use pet peeves when spending time with dementia patients. These tips will help you to have meaningful conversation and connection with people who have dementia.


This article courtesy of Holly Clark.


29 August 2019.