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Communicating With Someone With Dementia

Many people ask, how do I communicate with a person living with dementia?

And the answer is, like you would any other human being. Many people may find it daunting to strike up a conversation with someone who has dementia, but the majority of the time, this person will be perfectly capable of understanding and engaging with you.

However, as dementia progresses, sometimes this may have an effect on way they communicate and it’s important for us to recognise both verbal and non-verbal cues so that we can make sure a person’s needs do not go unmet. It is easy to feel guilty if you aren’t aware of how to support a loved one with dementia, however this can be overcome with the use of certain techniques.

For example, non-verbal communication is essential when verbal communication becomes a challenge. It is important to be animated and exaggerate certain facial expressions in order for someone with dementia to understand what you are trying to express. Lots of eye contact and engagement shows that you are listening to them and that you are interested in what they have to say. Physical touch can also be the key to communicating with someone with dementia, as it is a sign of comfort and safety and may put them at ease- acting as a gateway to verbal communication. Physical contact is important, as everyone knows the difference between a controlling grabbing of the arm, a patronizing pat on the head, a warm hug, and a comforting squeeze of the hand.

We are strong believers in the fact that if someone develops dementia, they remain the same person and should not be considered any different or, in turn, less intelligent.

Even if a person with dementia does not understand what you are trying to tell them, your tone can be a clear indication. A person will interpret your tone and react accordingly. Therefore if your tone is slightly negative or sharp, they may feel like they have done something wrong. Make sure your tone is reassuring and positive; never assume that someone with dementia is trying to be difficult or unresponsive. As a matter of fact, they probably share your frustration.

The NHS official guide encourages conversation with people living with dementia and provides advice for how to do so. It is recommended that you speak clearly and slowly, using short sentences as to not confuse someone. You must also give time for people to respond and avoid pressuring them to answer and not patronise or ridicule what has been said.

It is important to remember that people who can lack capacity sometimes cannot control what they say. Don’t be personally offended if the person with dementia becomes paranoid or accusatory and ignore and redirect any offensive language. Avoid criticizing, correcting, interrupting and baby talk. Instead, prompt people with photos and images to trigger conversation and pleasant memories. We understand that it may be challenging to adapt our behaviour and communication style for a loved one, however, never avoid all interaction on the basis that it is easier. Like everybody else, people with dementia need to communicate as part of their wellbeing, so try to be as accommodating and as patient as possible.

If you would like any further advice on how to communicate with someone with dementia, please contact us on 01474 533990 or email info@alz-dem.org.

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