Types of Dementia

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Learn to Communicate

As the dementia progresses, your care recipient will not be able to communicate as clearly as they used to and, in fact, they may become completely incomprehensible. While this may be frustrating for you, the inability to be understood clearly will be equally if not more frustrating for your care recipient. Communication between you and your care recipient will improve if you:

  • Use a calm and relaxed tone of voice. To a person with impaired communication skills, a high-pitched voice tone conveys anger and irritation. This may cause your care recipient to respond in the same manner.
  • Use clear, simple language but resist 'talking down' to your care recipient. They are still adults and will know they are being patronized.
  • Understand that sometimes words like 'Mom' or 'Dad' will not get a response. Using your care recipient's first name will usually get their attention.
  • Use common names rather than pronouns (e.g., he, she, him, her, it) when talking to your care recipient about other people or things. Pronouns can be confusing if your care recipient has problems remembering the details of a conversation.
  • Give your care recipient time to respond to questions and repeat or rephrase anything they don't seem to understand.
  • Ask one question at a time.
  • Ask simple questions or make simple statements, such as 'Do you want a bath?' or 'It's time for your bath.' More complicated statements and questions can be very confusing to a person with dementia.
  • Since your care recipient will lose the ability to judge time effectively, you may find it easier to use events to indicate the passing of time (for example, try 'before lunch' or 'after lunch' instead of the more abstract 'in an hour' or 'next week').
  • Try to avoid arguing or passing judgment on things your care recipient says.
  • If your care recipient can no longer speak due to aphasia, carry on a one-sided conversation, passing on information or observations in a normal, conversational tone. By continuing to communicate, you are helping your care recipient feel as though they are still a part of your life.
  • Remember the importance of non-verbal communication. Body and facial language can effectively supplement, and eventually replace, verbal communication. As your care recipient gradually loses the ability to use and understand verbal language, positive, caring body and facial language will go a long way to improving communication. For example:
    • Keep your facial expression normal and relaxed when you speak.
    • Maintain physical contact - hold their hand, touch their arm.
    • Learn to read your care recipient's body language to gauge their mood or comfort level. For instance, avoiding eye contact is frequently a signal that your care recipient is angry or upset.

Related Articles

- Communicating With Impaired Elderly Persons from ElderCare Online
- Do's and Don'ts of Communicating With Aging Parents by Mark Edinberg, Ph.D.