By: Jackie Witges, R.N., B.S.N., C.M.C., C.D.P.
When your loved one is diagnosed with a form of dementia, you may have concerns that you will not be able to communicate with them as you have in the past. Fear not, you can continue to communicate with them as long as you follow some of these DOs and DON’Ts to help you enjoy time together with your loved one.
- Address the individual by name and make eye contact. You know, just as you do with anyone else you communicate with.
- Be as simple and concrete as possible. An example would be “Let’s go use the toilet” rather than “Do you need to go to the bathroom?” This allows them to follow the simple command instead of working through a list of things they may forget causing them to become frustrated.
- Expect the individual to ask the same questions repeatedly. As their memory issues progress your loved one may ask the same question repeatedly. When answering them, use short, simple answers.
- Break tasks down into simple steps. This allows your loved one to show independence by completing one step at a time rather than becoming overwhelmed with trying to remember a bunch of steps they will undoubtedly forget.
- Remain calm and pleasant and maintain your sense of humor. If your loved one hears frustration and anger in your voice, they may not understand why. This may confuse them and trigger anxiety and aggression.
- Speak in a calm, clear voice. Take the time to listen to your loved one as they try to communicate their wants and wishes. They may not be able to use all the words correctly, but by being a detective and listening, you will be able to understand what your loved one is trying to say.
- Learn to agree with your loved one. Your loved one is no longer in our reality, they are in their own due to the disease. Do not force them into the here and now. If they believe it is Tuesday, its Tuesday. It’s okay to agree them even if it’s not correct.
- Offer choices with limited options. Ask questions like “Would you like some tea or lemonade?” “Would you like to wear the blue shirt or red shirt?” This gives them independence of making their own choices without frustrating them with too many choices.
- Listen, observe, and use gestures. You know, just as you do with anyone else you communicate with.
- Don’t Argue! You will not win. Ever. Don’t even try.
- Don’t expect answers to questions to be accurate. Your loved one is living in a different reality and might believe what they actually tell you.
- Don’t get irritated when the individual asks the same questions over and over. Your loved one’s short term memory will be affected. They will not remember what you have just told them. Keep calm and answer the question again.
- Don’t get upset or raise your voice. They take their cues from you as their loved one. If they feel your frustration, they will become frustrated which is not good for anyone. Stay calm and take a break when you feel frustration build.
- Don’t be condescending or use “elder speak”. Elder speak is like “baby talk”. Don’t use it. Not only do you sound silly, but your loved one has lived a full and fulling life and doesn’t deserve to be spoken to in that way.
- Don’t talk about someone in his/her presence as though they are not there. They can still understand when someone is being rude and talking about them. Don’t do it.
- Don’t whisper. Speak clearly and loud enough for them to hear you.
- Don’t say, “Don’t you remember?” Umm, dementia affects their memory. They don’t remember.
- Don’t answer for them. They can still communicate their needs, let them.
- Don’t correct them. Look back at number 1.
Communicating with your loved one will take time and patience on your part, but it can be done. Enjoy the time you have and continue to help them enjoy life to its fullest!