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Communication tips for a loved one with dementia



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Communication—both verbal and nonverbal—is intrinsic to the human experience. Effective communication, however, far from being an innate trait, is a learned skill.

Throughout our lifetime, social environments (i.e. parents, teachers, friends, jobs, and other life experiences) shape our understanding of the world and determine the ways in which we express ourselves. These thoughts and patterns become second nature to us, and likely will follow us for the rest of our lives. Effective communication can mean the difference between getting a promotion at work or not, or having a deeper connection with your children or your spouse.

Effective communication is especially important when caring for a loved one, as utilizing this skill can alleviate stress and lead to better mental and emotional health for both the caregiver and the care recipient. Individuals caring for a loved one with dementia—a condition which alters one’s ability to think and communicate—may find it especially difficult to communicate with this person, resulting in strained relationships between the caregiver and care recipient.

Understanding just how difficult communicating with individuals with dementia can be, Dementia Friends Indiana, an outreach initiative of CICOA, offers the following tips:

1) Be aware of your feelings.

Many times when we are rushed, stressed, or maybe just in deep thought, we are unaware of how we come across to others. It is important when providing care to a person with dementia that we are aware of our facial expressions and tone of voice. Our loved ones may not be able to verbally express things, but they often are able to gauge our emotions based on nonverbal behaviors and react to them.

2) Become an engaged listener.

Attempting to effectively communicate with someone who is no longer able to express themselves verbally requires tons of patience! Speak slowly and clearly, and repeat yourself when necessary. Listening, rather than talking, should become your priority. Being an engaged listener requires paying attention to nonverbal behaviors just as much, if not more than, words.

If you’re still unable to understand your loved one, continue to be as comforting and reassuring as possible, as your loved one attempts to communicate with you. If you still can’t make out what they’re trying to tell you, it’s okay to offer a guess. Try pointing to objects, or offering suggestions until you get it right.

3) Avoid criticizing, correcting and arguing.

If your loved one with dementia remembers something incorrectly or completely makes something up, go along with it. Arguing and correcting will only lead to unnecessary frustration and tension. Learn to pick your battles. If it’s not something that places your loved one or someone else in immediate danger, ask yourself if it’s really worth the fight.

All in all, communication really IS key. For more tips on how to effectively communicate with your loved one with dementia, contact CICOA’s Caregiver Options Counselors by phone at 317-803-6002 or 317-803-6140, or by email at caregiver@cicoa.org.