Communicating with people living with progressing dementia

As dementia progresses, communicating with a person living with dementia can become more challenging because s/he may have trouble finding the right words, may lose the thread of the conversation, and may have emotions about which s/he is unable to speak. Eventually s/he may understand very little of what you say, yet the sound and tone of your voice, your touch, or your smile may reassure your loved one more than your actual words. It may comfort your loved one to hear you talk about familiar things—the family, their interests, or what is for dinner. 

Liz Sabo reminds caregivers that their loved ones’ struggles with dementia are causing the confusion about reality that is responsible for their frustration. Speaking calmly, as an equal, even affectionately, may help.

It helps to have a personal connection, speaking at eye level and maintaining eye contact. Speak slowly and calmly. Involve your loved one in conversations about care. Use simple language, short sentences and clear statements. Be positive. “We should go here” is better than “do not go there.” Be sensitive to his/her reality and avoid criticism or arguments. If you are not sure what your loved one is trying to say, assist them with a guess or a gesture. Non-verbal communication can help where words do not do the job. Visual cues, smells, sounds or a touch can help you make the point. Sometimes a person can sing a comment better than he or she could find the words to say it. Be creative! And above all, be patient. Your loved one may be easily distracted, but with patience, respect, and persistence you will be able to communicate effectively. And, if you can find something the two of you can laugh about, the conversation may flow more easily.