Communicating with a senior who has dementia

10 Tips for Communicating With a Senior Who Has Dementia

In Health by Companions for Seniors

As a loving family member of an elderly adult, it can be difficult to watch your loved one experience the many changes that go along with dementia. 

A progressive brain disorder, dementia can make it more difficult for your senior loved one to remember things, think clearly, and communicate. Dementia can cause problems with processing and understanding language, and may make it harder for your senior loved one to express their thoughts and feelings. Older adults with dementia may also start to experience sudden mood swings, and may even undergo some personality changes, becoming anxious, angry, or socially withdrawn. 

Though dementia may bring a fair number of changes and challenges, it’s important to remember that your loved one is still the same person underneath. As a caregiver, you may need to find new ways to connect and communicate with your loved one, so you can work to enrich their life, and make it easier to give them the support and attention they need to thrive. 

As Family Caregiver Alliance explains

“Improving your communication skills will help make caregiving less stressful and will likely improve the quality of your relationship with your loved one. Good communication skills will also enhance your ability to handle the difficult behavior you may encounter as you care for a person with [dementia].”

What strategies and skills can you use to improve your communication with a loved one experiencing dementia or Alzheimer’s? As the Alzheimer’s Society of Great Britain puts it, it helps to consider “what to say, how to speak, and how to listen.” 

Here are ten expert-approved tips for communicating with a senior with dementia: 

1.) Limit distractions and get the person’s attention.

Make sure your environment is set up for a good talk. Get rid of distractions by turning off the TV or radio, and make sure your loved one can see you clearly. Make sure you get your loved one’s full attention, and try to maintain eye contact as much as you can. 

2.) Use positive, reassuring body language.

Nonverbal communication can make an enormous difference in connecting with seniors with dementia. Be open and relaxed, and try to make sure your body language matches what you’re saying. If appropriate, use physical touch by gently putting your arm around your loved one, or reaching out to hold their hand. Try to avoid making any sudden movements or dramatically changing your expression or body position, as this might confuse or agitate your loved one. Watch out for your loved one’s body language, and take note if they seem to be withdrawing from the conversation, or if they’re using gestures to communicate something they can’t put into words. 

3.) Speak as clearly as possible.

Use a clear, even tone of voice. Speak at a slightly slower pace than usual, and give plenty of time for your loved one to respond. Use simple sentences, but be specific – use names and details instead of confusing pronouns like “he,” “she,” or “it.” Keep things conversational, and avoid being condescending or using babytalk. Remember, your loved one is an adult, and should be treated with dignity. 

4.) Talk about one thing at a time.

To make conversations easier, try to stay focused on one topic, rather than juggling multiple threads. Finish one subject completely before moving on to another topic of conversation. It may help to think about what you want to talk about before you start the discussion; you may even consider jotting down some notes or having a goal for the talk. Avoid asking complex questions, and phrase questions so that you present a clear choice, or get a “yes” or “no” response. 

5.) Be a patient, active listener.

Remember, communication is a two-way street. After you finish your thought, be sure to pause and give your loved one plenty of time to respond. Show that you are interested and engaged with your body language. Repeat the senior’s words back to them, and be accommodating if they’re struggling to find the right thing to say.  

6.) Be comforting and supportive.

Be reassuring in your tone of voice, body language, and speech. Communicate that you want to be there, and you’re excited to be communicating with your loved one. Be flexible, and give your loved one plenty of time to process your words, and be patient when waiting for a response. Show your loved one that you aren’t judging them by being present and attentive. 

7.) Find what brings your loved one joy.

It may help to communicate about the “good old days.” Often, people with dementia are better at recalling long-term memories (for example, details from their childhood), than short-term ones (such as what they did the day before). Find what your loved one is passionate about, and steer the conversation in that direction. Many studies have also found that art and music can be great ways to inspire people with dementia. 

8.) Rephrase, don’t repeat.

If you’ve already repeated yourself once, and your loved one still doesn’t seem to be grasping what you’re trying to convey, try using new words or phrases to express your ideas. Try not to get frustrated with yourself or your loved one if you need to rephrase something multiple times. 

9.) Try not to argue.

Accept that your loved one may make verbal mistakes, such as repeating a word. They may also make inaccurate statements, or remember things differently than you do. Instead of arguing over every detail, be supportive and reassuring to move the conversation forward. Look for the meaning behind the words by paying close attention to your loved one’s nonverbal cues and emotional expression. 

10.) Respect their limits.

If your loved one seems to be feeling agitated or tired, it may be better to wind down the discussion and pick it up another time. If your loved one seems to be agitated by a certain topic, try to redirect the conversation to another subject. Keep in mind that communicating with your loved one will be easier on some days than others. Similarly, if you know that your loved one tends to be more active or engaged on a certain day of the week, or at a certain time of day, focus on trying to communicate during these periods, and let them rest during the “down” times. 

Looking for an Extra Set of Hands? Companions for Seniors Is Here to Help

As a family caregiver, it’s important to know when to reach out for help. Managing a senior loved one’s care plan can be a lot to handle on your own, particularly if your senior loved one is facing the challenges that come along with Alzheimer’s or dementia. 

In these cases, home care provided by an experienced senior companion can be an invaluable resource for seniors, and the family caregivers who love and support them. A senior companion can help provide the personalized service and care a senior needs to live more independently. At the same time, this companion is a friendly face, who can enrich a senior’s life by playing games, sharing meals, swapping stories, and always being there when it counts. .

At Companions for Seniors, our mission is to help seniors live independently and with dignity in the comfort of their own home by empowering them to lead an active and enriched lifestyle, connecting them with their community, and nurturing meaningful relationships.

Our companions are trained and bonded, and can help provide a variety of services designed to help your loved one remain in the comfort of their own home. For our professional companions, communicating with the elderly and providing high quality care is a true passion. Our caregivers know the importance of spending time with, and actively listening to, our senior friends. 

Have any more questions? Interested in seeing what sets our home care services apart? Get in touch online today, or give us a call at 866-910-9020 to keep the conversation going.