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How to Communicate with a Senior Affected by Dementia

Communicate with a Senior Affected by Dementia
Young woman kissing cheek of a senior family member

Millions of elderly Americans suffer from dementia, and when it happens to someone close to you it’s painful to watch as their condition progressively worsens. Dementia is caused by Alzheimer’s and other biological brain disorders. A senior affected by dementia may have trouble remembering things from their past, including some of the people closest to them.

Memory loss is the most noticeable sign of dementia, but it can also diminish coordination and motor skills, interfere with reasoning and problem-solving, and cause confusion and disorientation. A senior affected by dementia may also have trouble communicating with the outside world. This can frustrate family members and caregivers alike. Even though it seems like the person you once knew has become a shell of their former self, the truth is they are still living inside. In order to reconnect and communicate with them in a meaningful way, try these proven strategies.

Get Their Attention

To get through to your loved one, start by limiting room distractions and noise. Turn off the television or radio, close the curtains and door, or move them to a quieter area. When speaking to the senior affected by dementia, get their attention by saying their name. Identify who you are and your relationship to them. Positioning your body at their level can also be helpful. Use nonverbal cues and touch to keep the senior focused. When you speak, use a non-threatening voice and body language, and always convey a positive mood through your speech and actions.

Keep Your Message Clear and Simple

Use only simple words and sentences while speaking slowly, clearly and in a relaxed tone. Try not to raise or lower your voice when you speak. If they can’t understand what you’re saying initially, repeat the sentence or question while rephrasing it. If you’re still not getting through, wait a few minutes and rephrase the sentence or question again. Use proper nouns when referring to people and places rather than pronouns or abbreviations. Ask questions that can be answered with a “yes” or “no” whenever possible. A good example would be: “Would you like to go to the store today?”. Use visual prompts and cues when asking a question.

Be an Active Listener

Use your eyes, ears and heart to listen actively to what they are saying. Suggest words if they are struggling to verbalize their thoughts. Watch their body language for nonverbal cues that you can appropriately respond to. Don’t try to convince a senior affected by dementia that they’re wrong, as they oftentimes can become confused and recall events that never actually took place. Focus on the feelings that they are expressing and respond with reassurance, comfort and support. Holding their hand, hugging, and praising them are great ways to show love and understanding.

Break Up Activities into Smaller Portions

When you’re engaged in an activity with the senior, such as putting away clean dishes, break up the exercise into doable chunks; like first focusing on the silverware. If they hit a mental roadblock, use hand gestures to show them where the items go. Breaking up tasks into smaller portions makes them easier to accomplish and alleviates frustration.

Diffuse Uncomfortable Situations

There will be times when the senior gets agitated or even upset, and that’s when you will need to redirect their attention. Changing the subject or activity is good, along with suggesting another topic or activity to take their mind off of the previous one. Use empathy while speaking with them. For example, say: “I can see that putting away the dishes has upset you, and I’m sorry. Why don’t we go out and get some ice cream instead?”.

Help Them Remember Better Times

A senior affected by dementia may not recall what they did an hour ago, but they can surprisingly remember old memories from their childhood. Reliving better times is a calming and reassuring therapy for many people with cognitive impairment. Get them into a discussion about people, places and things from bygone days, and even pull out some old photos to share. Don’t ask them questions that depend upon their short-term memory. Focus on events from years ago and watch their face light up!

Our Caregivers Understand Dementia

Taking care of an elderly adult with dementia can be exhausting at times. When you need a break, a highly-trained caregiver from Cranberry Home Care can step in and give your senior loved one the reliable care they deserve. Our highly-trained home care aids understand the effects of dementia, and how to communicate effectively with a senior that has cognitive impairment.

Other dependable senior care services our experienced aids provide include personal care, companionship, homemaking and transportation. At Cranberry Home Care, our family-trusted senior care services are always delivered in an affordable and flexibly-tailored package to put your mind at-ease. For more information on dementia, or the various at-home senior caregiving services Cranberry Home Care offers to families in the Southeastern Massachusetts area, visit: www.cranberryhomecare.com.

Trish Garbitt
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