Communicating with a person with dementia

Dementia is an illness that will gradually affect a person’s ability to remember and comprehend basic everyday knowledge. Due to this, the person with dementia will begin to communicate differently, as they may not possess the verbal skills that they did in the past. The ability to present rational ideas and to reason clearly may become more distorted as time goes on and the person with dementia may become irritated during this change.

Given this, you may find that the number of conversations started by the person with dementia will begin to decrease. This is a common occurrence at this stage and it may be the case that you will have to start discussions in order to get the person to make conversation. You may need some time to adjust to these conversations due to the responses gradually becoming slower and less coherent.

It is important to be aware of these changes, despite it sometimes causing distress in the person with dementia or in the carer themselves. By learning about this change, you are able to prepare for the challenges that may be faced in future and put practices in place that will make the transition easier. This way, the person with dementia will be treated with support and knowledge when the communication starts to change, rather than confusion and worry in the absence of sufficient information.

There are various common obstacles that a person with dementia can face when communicating with others. These can include not understanding or losing the thread of a conversation, limited response, speaking fluently but their sentences not making any sense, struggling to find the right word and repeating themselves. These setbacks can often be frustrating and cause confusion in the person with dementia. It can be helpful to put certain practices in place that will be able to facilitate their communication.

Tips for enhanced communication

Although each case of dementia varies, there are techniques that can be used in order to help the individual communicate more comfortably. It can be useful to try each of the following processes and remember which ones are most effective:

  • Use words that are simple and familiar

  • Speak clearly and use simple, short sentences

  • Allow the person with dementia time to respond to things

  • Avoid asking more than one question at once

  • If the person is engaging, try to keep the conversation going

  • Remain as relaxed as possible, this helps to put the person at ease

  • Confirm understanding of what has been said can help to reassure the person

  • Continue to show respect for the person and avoid talking to them as if they were a young child

Tips for enhanced non-verbal communication

Non-verbal cues can be a helpful way of facilitating conversation with somebody who has dementia. Although the person may struggle to articulate or understand a certain phrase, gentle physical contact can communicate a feeling of support and stimulate confidence within them. Below are some helpful tips regarding non-verbal communication:

  • Physical contact can be used to provide reassurance to the person. As long as they are comfortable with you doing so, physical acts such as putting your arm around the person or holding their hand can help to make them feel safe
  • Try not to invade the person’s personal space when communicating, as this may be intimidating to the person. It can be helpful to sit or stand a suitable distance away and aim to meet their eye level
  • Body language can be a useful tool when communicating with a person who has dementia. In order to make them feel comfortable, use open body language and gentle gestures, as well as kind and recognisable facial expressions. Be wary not to make any sudden movements or hostile signs, as this may cause distress and confusion in the person
  • Although a person with dementia may struggle to communicate verbally, their body language can often provide subconscious insight into what they are feeling. It can be useful to learn to connect the person’s body language with their different behaviours. For example, the person crossing their arms, hunching their shoulders or fiddling may indicate that they are feeling anxious about something
  • Visual prompts can also be used to effectively enhance communication with somebody who has dementia. For example, cue cards or a book of pictures that the person recognises can be used to facilitate their communication. The same concept can be applied to certain technology through the use of certain apps that are able to illustrate what the person with dementia requires

By successful putting these tips into place, the person with dementia will feel engaged and they will begin to enjoy their conversations more. The person’s confidence will be boosted and they will feel encouraged to continue to communicate. If these tips are not used effectively, however, the person with dementia may feel that they are unable to fully express themselves. This can cause a loss in confidence and the person becoming anxious about their communication, which in turn can lead to the person becoming withdrawn and reluctant to communicate.

For more information on communicating with somebody with dementia, please click here.

For more tips on communicating with somebody with dementia, please click here.

For more information on preparing to communicate with somebody with dementia, please click here.