Caring for a patient
with dementia presents many challenges. Watching a loved one
progress through the stages of dementia is also challenging. Communication is often especially difficult as people with dementia can become frustrated by the changes in their memory and the difficulties with talking and comprehending, especially in later stages of the disease.
Whether you are providing care as a professional or family caregiver, there are some strategies to help you navigate these waters and communicate more effectively – easing the stress on both the person with dementia and you. As the nurse in the family, many come to me for advice and guidance as we are caring for our own loved one with dementia. Here are some “do’s and don’ts” for communicating with patients with dementia that I’ve come across.
Tips for Communicating with Patients with Dementia
- Speak clearly.
- Remain calm; avoid raising your voice.
- Use simple words and short sentences.
- Speak at a slow pace.
- Be conversational; avoid a lot of questions.
- Be respectful.
- Position yourself close, at eye-level, and ensure adequate lighting.
- Remain open and relaxed.
- Use prompts, such as photos or objects, to help the person understand what you are talking about.
Things to Avoid when Communicating with Patients with Dementia
- Don’t complete the person’s sentences.
- Avoid saying, “Remember when…?” or asking, “Do you remember…?” Use a statement, “I remember when…” and the person may or may not join in but won’t feel embarrassed if they don’t remember.
- Avoid being frustrated with repeated questions. Take a break if necessary.
- Don’t remind them of a loved one’s death. You can try encouraging them to talk about the person if they ask.
- Avoid asking questions about them or their past. Instead, focus on the present, tell them about your day to stimulate conversation.
- Don’t ask the person if they recognize you or anyone else. As you greet them, tell them who you are and what your relationship is to them.
The best advice I found is to remember that there is a person “behind” the dementia. Use their name as often as possible and be respectful. Prioritize keeping their dignity intact. It’s not easy to see a loved one struggle with any illness, and dementia is no different.