Tips to help communicate with someone with dementia
While a person with later-stage Alzheimer’s may not always respond, they still require and benefit from continued communication. Ongoing communication is important, no matter how difficult it may become or how confused the person with Alzheimer’s or dementia may appear.
Before communicating with a person with dementia
- Limit distractions: Find a place that’s quiet. The surroundings should support the person’s ability to focus on their thoughts
- Identify yourself: Approach the person from the front and say who you are. Keep good eye contact. If the person is seated or reclined, go down to their level
- Call the person by their name: This helps orientate the person and gets their attention
- Convey an easy-going manner: Being aware of your feelings and attitude as you may be communicating through your tone of voice. Use positive, friendly facial expressions and non-verbal communication
- Focus on feelings, not facts: Sometimes the emotions being expressed are more important than what is being said. Look for the feelings behind the words. At times, tone of voice and other actions may provide clues
Think about your own behaviour
- Be patient and supportive: Let the person know you’re listening and trying to understand. Show the person that you care about what they're saying and be careful not to interrupt
- Offer comfort and reassurance: If they're having trouble communicating, let the person know that it’s ok. Encourage the person to continue to explain his or her thoughts
- Avoid criticising or correcting: Don’t tell the person what they are saying is incorrect. Instead, listen and try to find the meaning in what is being said. Repeat what was said if it helps to clarify the thought
- Avoid arguing: If the person says something that you don’t agree with, let it be. Arguing usually only makes things worse, often heightening the level of agitation for the person with dementia as well as the carer
- Treat the person with respect: Avoid talking down to the person or talking as if he or she isn’t there.
When in conversation with a person with dementia
- Speak slowly and clearly: Being aware of speed and clarity. Use a gentle and relaxed tone, a lower pitch is more calming
- Ask one question at a time: Use short simple words and sentences, lengthy requests or stories can be overwhelming
- Patiently wait for a response: The person may need extra time to process what you said
- Repeat information or questions: If the person doesn’t respond, wait a moment, then ask again
- Offer a guess: If the person uses the wrong word or cannot find a word, try guessing the right one. If you understand what the person means, you may not need to give the correct word
When encouraging a person with dementia to complete a task
- Turn questions into answers: Provide the solution rather than the question. Say “The bathroom is right here” instead of asking, “Do you need to use the bathroom?”
- Avoid confusing and vague statements: If you tell the person to “Hop in!” they might interpret your instructions literally. Instead, describe the action directly: “Please come here. Your shower is ready.” Instead of using “it” or “that”, name the object or place. For example, rather than, “Here it is” say “Here is your hat”
- Turn negatives into positives: Instead of saying, “Don’t go there,” say, “Let’s go here”
- Avoid quizzing: Reminiscing may be healthy but avoid asking, “Do you remember when?”
Other non-verbal communication styles
- Give visual cues: To help demonstrate the task, point or touch the item you want the individual to use or begin the task for the person
- Try using written notes: Reminders are helpful if the person is able to understand them
- Encourage unspoken communication: If you don’t understand what is being said, ask the person to point or gesture
Help cards can be useful for a person with dementia when they’re out enjoying an activity or shopping. They are free and can be kept in a person’s wallet or purse, they let other people know that they have dementia or Alzheimer’s and may need some support.
Cue cards are helpful for people in the later stages of dementia and can be used to assist with communication. They are printed in black and white and have pictures of simple activities that the person may be trying to refer to.
Good communication can help people to live well with dementia. Understanding their needs, wishes and emotions will become more difficult as their dementia progresses but there are many ways you can support them through their journey.
If you would like advice about care for someone with dementia contact our care manager Colette@edencountrycare.co.uk tel: 07889 706 852. You might also like to join our Facebook group Care Begins at Home to discuss these issues with others facing the same care challenges.