Interacting with a loved one who has symptoms of dementia can often feel like a daunting task. However, there are several strategies caregivers can employ to not only improve communication but also facilitate more fulfilling conversations with an aging adult.
It’s important to first consider the various ways dementia can affect the mind. If your loved one is experiencing age-related neurocognitive change, you may already be witnessing changes related to language expression, problem-solving, memory, and/or further cognitive deterioration.
Below, we discuss several tips to help mitigate these changes that will also improve communication with a loved one suffering from dementia.
Accept that a conversation may have twists and turns
Prepare yourself mentally before communicating with a loved one living with memory changes, Alzheimer’s disease, or other age-related neurocognitive disorders. Recognize and acknowledge that the situation with your loved one is fluid. There are good days and bad days, but by approaching the interaction with a positive tone and a smile, you’re already giving them a stronger sense of familiarity and security.
Patience is key
Patience is one of the most important facets to consider when communicating with a loved one who has symptoms of dementia. Allow them to speak without interruption and avoid arguing or criticizing them regardless of the topic at hand.
Use non-verbal cues
As a neurocognitive condition evolves, conversations may get more difficult, but that doesn’t mean that you can’t show your loved one support by utilizing non-verbal cues. While maintaining a relaxed demeanor, indicate that you’re patiently listening by their side. Smile, make eye contact and use cues of comfort such as placing your hand on theirs.
At the same time, pay attention to your loved one’s body language to get a better grasp of the current situation. Allow their non-verbal cues to help drive the interaction.
Take breathers as needed
If you find that your loved one is stammering or becoming frustrated during an interaction, pause and attempt to reset the situation. Don’t force a conversation or an answer to a question that may be causing distress.
Don’t talk down
Regardless of the stage of your loved one’s neurocognitive condition, it’s important to maintain a strong sense of respect. As a caregiver, always endeavor to speak to your loved one as an adult.
Maintain a sense of normalcy
Aid in comforting your loved one by being present in the moment. Communicate to the best of your ability as you would have in the past. It’s common for words or a train of thought to get lost. Do your best to interpret the context of a particular conversation and help your loved one fill in the gaps.
Minimize distractions in the environment
Your loved one may already be struggling to concentrate or speak their mind. Help keep them at ease during interactions by removing any outside noise, or by turning off electronics that may remove them from the present moment.
Keep questions, topics, and requests relatively straightforward
As dementia evolves, your loved one may have more difficulty discussing topics or taking actions they were once more familiar with. Ask questions that don’t require critical thinking and stick to questions that primarily can be answered with a yes or a no. If you’re asking them to complete a task, give them a couple of options or make sure that it can be done one step at a time.
Caregivers can be reassured that by following these straightforward guidelines, you’ll be able to have more meaningful conversations with your loved ones – regardless of their level of neurocognitive change. These tips can also aid in fostering more relaxed engagement between all parties involved.