Dementia care: Tips to communicate more effectively with a person with Alzheimer’s

Dementia: Expert discusses the signs and symptoms

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The Alzheimer’s Association is a dedicated dementia charity that provide support for people who have dementia and for the people looking after them. During the early and middle stages of the progressive disease, it will be beneficial to learn as much as you can about the condition. Those with dementia may struggle to find the right word, which can make conversations difficult. This may be compounded by them repeating themselves and not following what you’re saying.

“Continuing to communicate with a person is very important as they may become isolated if they start to lose confidence and avoid talking to others,” said the Alzheimer’s Association.

When a person is experiencing dementia, you can expect them to:

  • Lose the thread of a conversation
  • Forgot words or confuse words with another, such as book instead of magazine
  • Talking for an extended period of time or repeat the same things
  • Interrupting people
  • Not responding when someone talks to them
  • Problems with expressing how they’re feeling

When in a group setting, it’s advisable to “make sure the person is included in conversations”.

“Give them time to speak and try not to talk on their behalf. Ask others to communicate directly with the person too,” the charity suggested.

It’ll also help to “listen to the person as closely as you can”, perhaps removing distractions, such as background noise like the TV or radio.

“Speak clearly and a little more slowly than usual,” the charity continued. “And use simple words and sentences.”

However, the Alzheimer’s Society emphasised “it’s important not to talk to the person as if they are a child”.

Although conversation can be taxing, “stay clam and speak with a kind and patient tone as much as you can”.

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Amidst conversation, maintain eye contact – as long as there’s no cultural reason not to.

In addition, sit at the same level as the person with dementia so that they don’t feel intimidated – and don’t stand too close.

Traditionally, conversationalists will ask open-ended questions to encourage talking, but closed questions may fare better when talking to a person with dementia.

Asking questions, such as “what do you want to do today” may be harder to process; instead, try giving a short list of options.

Questions that require either a yes or no answer may also be helpful when communicating.

“In the later stages of dementia, problems with language and communication become much more severe,” the Alzheimer’s Society stated.

Even when a person with dementia is no longer able to talk, there are still many ways to communicate with that person.

Non-verbal communication includes:

  • Gestures
  • Facial expressions
  • Body language

“Use the person’s non-verbal communication to understand how they’re feeling or if they are trying to communicate,” said the charity.

Sometimes a person with dementia may not be able to understand the words you’re using.

However, this shouldn’t discourage you from talking to them, as they might find it reassuring when you make the effort to communicate.

Furthermore, positive body language such as smiling, touching the person’s hand and facial expressions, can improve communication between you both.

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