Dementia and Alzheimer's disease double every five years in people aged 65 and older, and this number is expected to triple to 14 million by 2060. While these stats aren't exactly fun, knowing them can help you prepare and realize you're not alone.
When you've had a parent or grandparent who has been impacted by this disease-or if you're experiencing it yourself-you know it's debilitating and painful. Having a community of people who know what you're struggling through can help when you're going through tough times. You're not alone.
Interacting with a loved one with dementia can be challenging, however with good communication strategies things can be made easier. Set a positive atmosphere, avoid interrupting, and allow your loved one to be honest and open with you.
The following tips will help you communicate effectively with a senior with dementia.
Gain attention and trust. Ensure that you have gained your audience's attention before speaking. Additionally, it is essential that the person in your care feels comfortable with you and that you have their consent. For example: "Julie, will your daughter come to see you today?" Hello, Lisa. It's breakfast time."
Approach from the front. Approach a person with dementia from the front so they can recognize you. The person's range of vision may become more limited in the late stages of dementia, so you may need to make further adjustments for that as well. Make direct eye contact with the person before speaking (unless it is culturally inappropriate) and stand or sit in front of the person so that you are at eye level. Keeping eye contact throughout the conversation shows that you are listening. Supporting someone also builds trust, develops respect, and shows them that you care about them.
Lead with the person’s name. A person suffering from dementia benefits from being addressed by name and identifying yourself helps the individual maintain their sense of direction. By introducing the person by name you will also catch their attention, enhancing their ability to attend to your question or request.
Minimize distractions. Individuals who have dementia are often distracted by both sounds and sights. Remove all sources of unnecessary stimulation before initiating communication. Be sure to ask someone's permission before handling their personal belongings.
Avoid using pronouns. A person without a cognitive disability might find it illogical to refer to a book as "it" or to the person's son as "he". However, for those who have dementia, pronouns can often cause confusion and frustration. What's "it" and who's "he"? Speak clearly. Use simple words, You should avoid words like it, he, his, she, her, them, they, those, etc.
Keep your sentences short. Dementia patients may find it difficult to understand long sentences that contain many details. Let's turn on the faucet so we can wash our faces. Please take a moment to freshen up prior to your daughter's visit this afternoon. Keep your sentences brief and to the point. "Darleen, your son will arrive shortly."
Be patient and wait for a response. It has been shown that a person with dementia may have a delayed response time of up to 30 seconds. As a caregiver, you may find that this delay is frustrating at times. Delays can also be misinterpreted as a person's inability to understand your message. If you are communicating with someone who has dementia, give them time to process your words. Do not distract the person while they are processing. Stay patient and you will often receive the response you want.
Provide visual and tactile cues. Your message may not be fully communicated with words alone. As a result, you may not get a response and conclude that the person can't or won't do what you're asking. Use visual demonstrations and tactile/hands-on cues to illustrate your points.
Pay attention to your messages. Nonverbal communication plays an important role in communication. Aside from the words you use, your tone of voice, volume, body language, and facial expressions also convey a message. It is important to realize that nonverbal messages may be intentional as well as unintentional, so make sure that your nonverbal cues do not alter the meaning of your message.
Be patient, friendly, and supportive. Behind every person with dementia, there is a person. Let the person with dementia know that you are paying attention to how they communicate. Focus on the feelings associated with their communication, rather than the facts. If possible, use additional forms of communication to express support, such as touching and smiling. Remember that good communication benefits both the sender and receiver.
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