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How to Communicate with Dementia Patients Successfully

Updated on May 9, 2012
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Clear and Concise Communication is Best For Dementia Patients

In caring for dementia patients, it is important to realize that dementia is not just a loss of memory. Dementia is a condition which affects a patient’s ability to reason, to process information and to learn. Over time dementia doesn’t just take away one’s memories, it alters their personalities too. When striving for successful communication with dementia patients, the key is to be patient and focus on your non-verbal communication as well as clear verbal language.

When speaking with a loved one or a patient with dementia, you will have more success if you speak slowly and distinctly, using clear and simple words. Before asking the patient to do something, address him or her by their name. Use a calm and reassuring voice. Maintain eye contact to hold their attention. Clearly ask only one question at a time and give the patient ample time to reflect and respond. Rushing the patient can increase confusion.

The Importance of Non-Verbal Communication with Dementia Patients

According to the Alzheimer's Society, "Non-verbal communication is particularly important for a person with dementia who is losing their language skills." Body language, tone of voice and facial expressions relay vast amounts of information to a person with cognitive impairment. Because dementia patients have difficulty processing auditory information, the way language is received is just as important as what is said. Remember the importance of love and affection, even if your loved one cannot reciprocate. Sometimes holding hands, gently touching or hugging will get the patient to respond. In addition, using gestures is also helpful in communicating; demonstrate an action or point to objects.

Helpful Tips For Communicating With Dementia Patients

1. Try to maintain a structured daily routine. Dementia patients have difficulty dealing with change as it creates confusion.

2. Be involved with the patient as he or she performs daily tasks as this helps maintain self-esteem.

3. Especially for loved ones, keep your expectations of what the patient can do realistic. If your expectations are in line, you can expect less frustration on both your parts. Typically loved ones, especially spouses, expect the patient to perform tasks as they once did.

4. Many dementia patients suffer from confusion, anxiety, loss of self-esteem, irritability and depression. Keep in mind dementia patients have good days and bad days. Appreciate the good days and be more accepting on the bad days.

5. Like most people, dementia patients are groggy and more disoriented when they wake from a nap or a night’s sleep. Expect this and guide him through the conversation.

6. Break down all tasks into simple steps and give one direction at a time.

7. If the patient does not respond to a question, patiently ask it again. If still no response, rephrase the question and try a different angle.

8. If you are not able to get a response from the patient or loved one, try not to speak about them as if they were not there. Have respect for the person and make them a part of the conversation, even if they aren't reciprocating.

9. Refrain from debating over the correct answer. Dementia patients are easily confused. Their time frame and reality may be different than yours.

10. Make sure no one talks down to or patronizes a person with dementia. No one likes to be scolded or treated inferior. Continue to have respect for the patient as another human being.

11. Loved ones, who are caregivers, may get angry and frustrated. If you do get angry, try not to blame the patient for your feelings. Dementia patients cannot change their behavior for you. Talk to a friend when you need to vent and try not to get angry at your loved one.

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    • LauraGSpeaks profile image
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      LauraGSpeaks 4 years ago from Raleigh, NC

      Hmrjmri, thank you for your comments. I find it fascinating how the brain processes different tones. Kudos to you for the work you are doing with patients in the VA hospital. I am sure the patients and their families appreciate your caring ways and patience.

    • Hmrjmr1 profile image

      Hmrjmr1 4 years ago from Georgia, USA

      Very well done Ma'am. I do Recreation Therapy for an Alzheimer Unit in a VA Hospital and this is very good info. Tone of voice comes from the part of the sound spectrum that even the most affected will register. Calm tends to be in the Lower end of the Spectrum that research has shown will trigger brain responses even in patients with comas. The higher up the sound spectrum you move the more Dementia seems to distort it. So that what was once happy violin music becomes an uncomfortable screech to them that they just want to get away from.

      Patience is the key with patients..Thanks for some excellent work.

    • LauraGSpeaks profile image
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      LauraGSpeaks 4 years ago from Raleigh, NC

      Thank you elderadvisor. You are correct that manifests itself in different ways. There are also many facets to the various stages of the condition. There is no cookie cutter approach to caring for a dementia patient, but hopefully this hub may help someone in their journey with a loved one.

    • profile image

      Alicia Foley 4 years ago from Connecticut

      This is an extremely helpful hub. Dementia affects everyone differently but these communication tips can be universally applied.

    • LauraGSpeaks profile image
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      LauraGSpeaks 5 years ago from Raleigh, NC

      Thank you Liz. I am pleased that the hub proves helpful information.

    • profile image

      Liz Walmoth 5 years ago

      A care giver would do well to read these tips everyday just to remind themselves of what the patient is going through. This was really well done!

    • LauraGSpeaks profile image
      Author

      LauraGSpeaks 5 years ago from Raleigh, NC

      Thank you Perspycacious for your kind words.

    • Perspycacious profile image

      Demas W Jasper 5 years ago from Today's America and The World Beyond

      You were definitely dealt a helping hand that writes well.

    • LauraGSpeaks profile image
      Author

      LauraGSpeaks 5 years ago from Raleigh, NC

      Hi Sarah. I am so glad you found the hub useful. There is a Virtual Dementia Tour program that is making its way around the country to caregivers and family members to help them better relate to dementia patients. If intersted, check out the alzheimersreadingroom.com

      Victoria Lynn--many thanks.

    • Victoria Lynn profile image

      Victoria Lynn 5 years ago from Arkansas, USA

      Awesome. I worked in long-term care for 11 years first as social worker and then administrator. We had an Alzheimer's Unit and the tips you give here are just what we taught our employees. Well done! This is a very helpful hub for folks to learn how to communicate with people who have dementia. Voted up among others!

    • profile image

      sarah 5 years ago

      I am a student nurse and I found this really helpful and has gave me a really good insight into a dementia sufferes life which will help me in my job to help to give good care.

    • LauraGSpeaks profile image
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      LauraGSpeaks 5 years ago from Raleigh, NC

      Ragged, a very true and insightful comment. Pamela, I am glad you enjoyed the hub. Thanks for sharing.

    • Pamela Kinnaird W profile image

      Pamela Kinnaird W 5 years ago from Maui and Arizona

      I found your list of Tips of Communicating with Dementia Patients very interesting and thorough. Great hub. I really liked reading all the comments, too. The comment of theraggededge is a new thought to me and very much appreciated.

      Great hub. Voting up and useful.

    • theraggededge profile image

      Bev 5 years ago from Wales

      "Their time frame and reality may be different than yours." I think this is very true and I've heard it said that dementia sufferers have one foot in our world and the other in an unknown dimension, and that it's a way of withdrawing gradually from this life. It makes it a lot easier to be patient and understanding with someone if we bear in mind they are just off visiting somewhere else.

    • LauraGSpeaks profile image
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      LauraGSpeaks 5 years ago from Raleigh, NC

      Good to know Judy Bee. I hope it is a useful hub for many. It really boils down to kindness and respect--taking the time to clearly communicate is so important, no matter the disability.

    • LauraGSpeaks profile image
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      LauraGSpeaks 5 years ago from Raleigh, NC

      I agree Austinstar. Lots of tips for everyone. Sometimes we get so busy with life, we forget about these simple steps for healthy communication. Thanks for reading.

    • LauraGSpeaks profile image
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      LauraGSpeaks 5 years ago from Raleigh, NC

      Thank you happyboomernurse (funny user name:))I am glad you found the hub useful for all those associated with dementia patients and the health profession in general.

    • LauraGSpeaks profile image
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      LauraGSpeaks 5 years ago from Raleigh, NC

      RTallonim thanks for reading. I hope that this hub will give helpful reminders to many types of caregivers.

    • LauraGSpeaks profile image
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      LauraGSpeaks 5 years ago from Raleigh, NC

      Goodlady, thank you for the feedback. Yes, caring for a dementia patient is extremely difficult, especially if it is a spouse. There is little down time and not nearly enough opportunities to for the caregiver to vent frustrations.

    • GoodLady profile image

      Penelope Hart 5 years ago from Rome, Italy

      I wondered as I read through your helpful, caringly thought out guide, who takes care of the carer? It's tough to have dementia of course, but surely just as tough for their loved ones. Illnesses affect all the people around so much don't they?

      Your Hub was wonderful, because although all the points you made out were to help the patient, they also clearly show how much help the carer needs with their full time loved one.

      Voting up and useful.

    • Austinstar profile image

      Austinstar 5 years ago from Somewhere in the universe

      This sounds like a helpful guide for dealing with people in general too :-)

    • Judi Bee profile image

      Judith Hancock 5 years ago from UK

      This is a useful reminder for anyone who works with people with any type of special need. I work with children who have special needs and these guidelines would work with them too.

      Voted up etc.

    • Happyboomernurse profile image

      Gail Sobotkin 5 years ago from South Carolina

      Lots of great tips in this well written hub which also has valuable resource links.

      I recommend this hub to anyone who is a caregiver or friend of a person suffering from Alzheimer's.

      It is also a good guide and reminder for health professionals.

      Voted up, useful and interesting.

    • RTalloni profile image

      RTalloni 5 years ago from the short journey

      The is a great guideline for dealing with dementia patients, and not bad for dealing with many other kinds of patients for people who are not well are under stress and not able to respond normally.