If you are caring for someone with Alzheimer’s or another form of dementia, it is important to take the time to learn how to communicate effectively with them. Improving your communication skills can decrease the stress of caregiving. It can improve your relationship with your loved one and later be beneficial if difficult behaviors develop.
Give your loved one time to understand you. Speak slowly and loud enough for them to hear you. If they have difficulty understanding you, try to lower the pitch of your voice. Speaking in a quiet spot with few distractions can also aid in communication.
Be aware of your body language.
Your loved one may not always completely comprehend what you are saying, but they can interpret body language. Make eye contact, smile warmly, don’t crowd their personal space, and use a pleasant tone in your voice.
Try to follow their pace.
Listen carefully for clues to what they are trying to communicate. Try to assist with words if they cannot find them, but be careful not to interrupt too often. Don’t try to rush them through a conversation. Give them plenty of encouragement.
Listen with your heart.
Try to listen to the emotions behind the words that they say. They may not have the right words to express what they mean, but you can still interpret if they are uncomfortable, anxious or need to be reassured. Holding their hand, rubbing their back, or giving them a hug may be helpful when verbal communication fails.
Too many options can be overwhelming or confusing for someone with dementia. Provide visual examples of their options to help clarify further. Would you like to wear the red sweater or blue sweater today? Be patient and allow them time to think about their options before making a selection.
Break down activities into sections or simple steps. Give them smaller tasks so they can accomplish a goal. This will leave them feeling more confident about being able to complete activities.
A loved one with dementia may be so confused that they don’t understand their current reality. They might think they are a young mother needing to pick up their child, late for work, or looking for their parent. This can be difficult to handle. Try not to correct them or convince them otherwise, this can simply cause anxiety and more stress. Meet them where they are at in the moment and redirect them when you can.
As a caregiver, we know this time can be difficult and challenging. Here are a few more important tips to assist you as you care for your loved one.
No two days are the same.
Behaviors and patterns can change from day to day. You may need to get creative about ways to communicate or comfort your loved one as they progress in their memory loss.
You are not alone. There are so many resources to connect you with others who are facing the same challenges. Contact your local Alzheimer’s Association Chapter or Caregiver Resource Center. Search online to find support groups in your area.
Don’t isolate yourself or your loved one.
Both your loved one and you as a caregiver can benefit from staying connected within your community. If you are worried about your loved one’s behavior in public, search out dementia-friendly businesses. In Seattle, Aegis Living owns the Queen Bee café, which is open to the public. The cafe is adjacent our Aegis on Madison community. We offer a warm and friendly café, where you and your loved one are always welcome for a crumpet sandwich or a cup of coffee.