Communicating with a Loved One with Dementia

Everyday in America, family and caregivers are challenged in caring for seniors suffering from dementia. The leading form of dementia is Alzheimer’s disease. This crippling disease affects approximately 5.5 million Americans. As the disease worsens over time, caring for the patient can be quite challenging. One area in the relationship that can be worked on is communication. With a change in expectations and communicating correctly, caregivers can see an improvement in the quality of life and better results with the elderly who suffer with dementia.

Here are some ideas for caregivers and family to improve communication with those who have dementia. Reducing the stress from caregiving can occur when these steps are practiced.

1. Distract, but never shame – When completing a task seems to be met with trouble, don’t shame them when they are not moving fast enough or sharp enough. The best way to help them complete a task is to model the task to be done and have them do it along with you.

2. Repetition is the key, not “I told you so.” – People with dementia will struggle remembering the steps to complete a task. Early in the progression of the disease, following a proper order is a function that lessens quickly. Walk them through the task in simple stages so they can complete it. This process will take more time, but it will take the pressure off of them when they cannot remember the correct steps to finish something.

3. Encourage and not discourage – Our body language and facial expressions can do a lot of talking. A loving tone and continual positive reinforcement will lead to more success than condescending them out of your own frustration.

4. Agree and never argue – A phrase to practice daily would be “go with the flow”. If they suggest the sky is green, agree with them. You will never win an argument with them. You do not always have to be right.

5. Reminisce, not “remember” – When you ask if they remember something such as where they are from or their birthday this may upset them. Share their stories with them and let them add details they remember. If they make up some details, go along with them because they are engaging with you and being in the moment matters. Work on not using the phrase, “do you remember….”.

6. Divert, never reason – Reasoning with them can often be similar to arguing with someone with dementia. No matter how long you debate, you will not be able to talk them out of their opinion. A good way to divert them would be to change the subject.

7. Never tell them they can’t do something – Where there is negativity there is resistance and no productivity. Give them opportunities to be good at performing a task. Give them verbal clues, praise their efforts, and role model the task for them. If the task is something they can no longer do, do not push them into doing it.

8. Reassure them – Your senior with dementia needs you to be calm at all times. It is normal for a caregiver to experience stress, frustration, and exhaustion when dealing with someone with dementia. You will not help them when you lecture them. Sometimes they may need a smile, gentle touch, or a hug to reassure them that you care about them.

Every day will bring new challenges when caring for someone with dementia. Your success will be determined by how you approach these challenges. Your experience as a caregiver can become easier when you understand that you can handle the situation and you can communicate more clearly.


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