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Communicating with Someone Struggling with Dementia

When someone struggles with dementia, there are many complex issues involved in daily communications.  Typically, those with dementia experience an increasing difficulty to remember particular things, to think clearly, to communicate easily with others or to care for themselves.  Dementia reflects a disorder of the brain that makes all aspects of cognitive functioning challenging.  Therefore, communication with someone who struggles with dementia becomes an essential and significant skill.

First, when communicating with someone with dementia, be sure to create a positive or favorable conversational environment and speak in a pleasant and respectful manner using low voice tones to avoid adding any unnecessary excitement to the situation.  This individual will notice physical cues as well as voice inflection, so try to use gentle physical touch during conversations. Always maintain eye contact and avoid standing over someone who is sitting down.  It is important to appear to be on equal ground with the other person.

Next, limit any added distractions by either turning down or turning off the television or any other background noise. Those with dementia need to be able to focus on what is being said without confusing it with other disruptions. Articulate messages clearly by using simple words and sentences, pausing enough in between to allow the needed time for others to process what has been said. On occasion it is important to reinforce messages by repeating names several times instead of referring to others as he or she.  Be clear about whom you are speaking.

In other types of conversations, consider what visual cues can be included to allow any decision making to be easier; for example, consider asking, “Do you want to wear the blue shirt or the brown shirt?” Visual cues create more connections particularly for those with dementia.

Finally, always respond with affection or reassurance during conversations to avoid creating any added sense of agitation, uncertainty or anxiety for those with dementia.  Communication with a positive, sensitive and kind tone always helps others feel more confident and self-sufficient.

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“Caregiver’s Guide to Understanding Dementia Behaviors”


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