Dementia affects the brain, which in turn changes the way those who are affected by the disorder hear, process, and respond to conversations. As a result, it’s important to adapt your communication habits to techniques they will understand. The easiest way to adapt is nonverbal communication. This includes body language and facial expressions. Here are seven effective dementia communication techniques:
- Get the person’s attention. Approach them from the front and address them by name. Introduce yourself and sit down to be at eye level with them. To stay focused, remove yourself from distractions. Put down the phone, shut off the television/radio and close the door from crowds. Move to quieter surroundings if necessary.
- Keep patient and calm. Project a positive and calm disposition. Give the person your full attention and do not interrupt them while they are talking. Use facial expressions, tone of voice and physical touch to help convey your message. Match your expressions to your mood.
- Speak clearly and slowly. Keep your pitch low and your tone even. Keep your questions easy and try to avoid open-ended questions. Only ask one question at a time. If the person doesn’t answer right away, wait for them to respond. After a few minutes, repeat the question.
- Listen Carefully. Don’t interrupt them when they talk. If they struggle for words, make some suggestions. Listen for the meaning and feelings that underlie the words. They may be saying one thing, but feeling another.
- Observe their nonverbal reactions. Watch for nonverbal cues that may suggest frustration or impatience, such as a frown or a raised voice. Redirect the conversation if they start to show stress.
- Respond with affection and reassurance. People with dementia often get reality confused with imagination and may recall things that never really occurred. Never try to convince them they are wrong. Rather, stay focused on the feelings they are demonstrating and respond with comfort, support, and reassurance. A gentle touch or hug is also reassuring.
- Remember the good old days. Remembering the past is soothing and reassuring for patients with dementia. While they can’t recall events that happened 30 minutes ago, they can recall events from 30 years ago. So avoid questions that rely on short term memory. Instead, ask questions that ask about the past.
Even if a loved one has lost most of their verbal skills, remember that people with Alzheimer’s can understand kind touch, laughter and smiles. And never assume that they are completely oblivious to their surroundings. They have good and bad days. Never talk with others about them in their presence.