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Caregiver’s guide to dementia communication

Posted by Constance Schein, RN
on September 8, 2021
Group from Aegis of Redmond on stroll seen from rear

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.

Speak clearly.

Give your dad time to understand you. Speak slowly and loud enough for him to hear you. If he has 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 dad may not always completely comprehend what you are saying, but he can interpret body language. Make eye contact, smile warmly, don’t crowd his personal space, and use a pleasant tone in your voice.

Try to follow their pace.

Listen carefully for clues to what he is trying to communicate. Try to assist with words if he cannot find them, but be careful not to interrupt too often. Don’t try to rush him through a conversation. Give him plenty of encouragement.

Listen with your heart.

Try to listen to the emotions behind the words that he is saying. He may not have the right words to express what he means, but you can still interpret if he is uncomfortable, anxious or needs to be reassured. Holding his hand, rubbing his back, or giving him a hug may be helpful when verbal communication fails.

Limit choices.

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? Be patient and allow time to think about their options before making a selection.

Simplify directions.

Break down activities into sections or simple steps. Give him smaller tasks so he can accomplish a goal. This will leave him feeling more confident about being able to complete activities.

Confusing reality.

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.

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.

Get support.

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.

Profile image of Constance Schein, RN

Constance Schein, RN

Former Senior Vice President of Clinical and Health Services

Constance Schein is a registered nurse with more than 25 years of nursing experience in senior-focused healthcare organizations. She led Aegis Living’s major nursing and care initiatives and was responsible for managing and developing healthcare partnerships, technology, and wellness programs to improve resident care.

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