Changes in communication
One symptom of dementia is difficulty communicating, making speech and conversation more difficult for a person as their dementia progresses. While this change can be frustrating for both the individual with dementia and those supporting them, there are many things you, as a carer, can do to help.
Maintain their attention
People with dementia may be easily overwhelmed or distracted by external stimuli. Direct hand and eye contact makes it clear that you are speaking to them. Reduce background noise by turning off the TV or radio, and try to ensure that only one person speaks at a time.
Remain calm and positive
Some forms of dementia allow people to be aware of their memory loss, and often they worry about causing frustration to others. By maintaining relaxed body language and a calm tone of voice, you can reassure the person with dementia that they are not a burden and that you appreciate their conversation. Try and respond with calmness and empathy, rather than anger or frustration.
Keep it simple
Use words that are clear and familiar to the person, such as specific nouns or names, rather than pronouns or less-familiar terms. If the person does not understand, trying rephrasing your sentence using different wording. Ask short, closed-ended questions that make clear to the person the choices available to them.
Use visual aids
If a person with dementia is struggling with words, visual aids are a great way to communicate your point, as well as invoke their memory recollection. Visual aids include body gestures or actions, as well as physical objects such as photographs, calendars, white boards, or handheld devices. Visual aids remain effective even in the mid-late stages of dementia, and can evoke positive emotion and behaviour in the person.
Be willing to engage
Although conversation may not be the easiest, it is important to engage people with dementia in discussion. Avoid talking about them as if they were not there, and instead ask them clear, simple questions about interesting and familiar topics. People with dementia may struggle to communicate more if they are feeling rushed, so give them time to respond to what you have said. If a person with dementia is losing track of the conversation, it may help to repeat the main topic to them.
For further detail about any of these strategies, read Annabel Grant’s presentation from our Symposium 2017 event. You can also download and print our Communication Help Sheet if you want advice that you can carry with you.