How to Talk with Someone who has Dementia
Dementia is a horrible, debilitating disease that affects not only a person's memory but their ability to reason, learn and communicate. Plaque builds up on the brain, destroying brain cells which affects auditory processing and language skills. Caregivers and loved ones must learn how to communicate with a dementia patient to reduce their common feelings of isolation.
Use Clear Speech When Talking with Dementia Patients
When you are speaking with a loved one or a patient, speak slowly and distinctly using clear words and concise sentences. Use a calm and reassuring voice. Ask only one question at a time and give the patient plenty of time to respond. Be patient; if they do not respond, try again. Elderly people can become anxious when they feel rushed, which can manifest in feelings of anger and frustration.
Try to use simple words and short sentences. For example, say "Its time for lunch." (Pause) "Would you like a Diet Coke?" Instead of "Come on out to the kitchen for lunch now. Would you like water, a Diet Coke or lemonade?"
If a dementia patient repeats a question or a conversation, go with the flow. You need not tell the person he is repeating himself. If you need to redirect the conversation, then do so.
Non Verbal Communication and Dementia
Based on the research of UCLA Professor Albert Mehrabian, human communication is divided into three areas:
- Body language, 55%
- Tone of voice, 38%
- Spoken words, 7%
Since dementia patients have difficulty with auditory processing, realize the importance of sensory touch. A simple gesture of slowly touching a person’s hand is helpful before talking with them. A person may not understand the words you speak, but they may recognize your tone of voice.
For More Information on Dementia
- Dementia - MayoClinic.com
Dementia — Comprehensive overview covers symptoms, causes and treatments of this mental deterioration.
- Alzheimer's Disease & Dementia Guide | Alzheimer's Association
Learn about Alzheimer's disease and dementia symptoms, causes, risk factors, early onset, progression, treatment, related dementias and latest research. 24/7 Helpline 1.800.272.3900
Find Ways to Connect With Dementia Patients
There are multiple stages of dementia. With each progression, the patient's ability to communicate decreases. Therefore, caregivers must try even harder to find ways to connect with their patients. Keep in mind, a person with dementia may have a different reality than yours. Constantly correcting them can cause them to feel embarrassed and upset. Try engaging them in conversation about whatever timeframe they are in at that moment. For many patients, they feel most comfortable talking about events when they were children. They may not recall what they ate for breakfast, but they may remember telling you the name of their favorite 4th grade teacher. So how do you discover topics to talk about? Talk to family members and loved ones to discover events in their past. Did they serve in the military? Did they live on a farm? Did they have a pet dog? There is so much they can no longer process, when you do find something they find something they can talk about, it gives them a sense of accomplishment and belonging, even if it is short lived.
Recognize people with dementia have good days and bad days and sometimes they just don't want to talk. Try reading a book to someone as they may just like to hear the sound of your voice. If that isn't working, just sit and people watch for a while. It's important to remember that you may not always have a connection, so when you do, appreciate the moment.
Treat Dementia Patients with Dignity
Be careful of talking down to a dementia patient as you do not want to make them feel inferior. Do not talk about a person with dementia while they are in the same room. They can likely hear you and understand some, if not all of what you are saying. They can also pick up on your tone of voice and frustration.
Dementia patients may seem fairly alert one day and highly confused the next. Sometimes they don't want to talk; other times they are longing for someone to take interest in them. Caregivers need to be patient and always treat them with dignity and respect.