When someone gets dementia or Alzheimer’s disease, it can be a challenge to communicate with them. The dynamics of communication change, and roles between the elder and the young can seem to blur. Difficulty in expression and compression, and memory loss can result in a breakdown in communication. Both the patient and you may feel misunderstood or even hurt. Here are five rules to communicate with dementia patients to ensure a positive relationship between you and the patient.
Avoid Infantilizing Dementia Patients
What do people do when they talk to babies? Their voice usually becomes more high-pitched. They get closer to babies and oversimplify their communication. While this helps with communicating with a baby, it is demeaning when used with an adult. Dementia patients know when they are being talked down to. It is never a good feeling to be spoken to that way and can backfire in outbursts and anger. Treat them like how you would treat a loved one – with respect, honor, and politeness.
Avoid Raising Your Voice
With effective communication, the person with the loudest voice rarely wins. Hearing impairment and dementia are separate conditions. Just because someone has dementia does not mean they have a hearing problem. Raising your voice at a dementia patient may frighten, confuse or even insult them. This is not helpful especially if they are already confused about an ongoing conversation with you. Always keep your voice in a calm and measured manner. Use a raised voice only if you have ascertained that the dementia patient has a hearing problem as well.
Make Eye Contact and Keep Smiling
A genuine smile and eye contact signal to others that you are approachable, confident, and open. This is also true when communicating with patients with dementia. It reassures them that they are communicating with someone that they can trust.
Level with Them
When possible, bend down to be at the same level as the dementia patient when communicating with them. This places you at an equal level with them instead of you standing up straight and looking down at them. It shows that you come from a place where both of you are equal individuals, and creates an atmosphere where a respectful conversation is more likely to take place.
Avoid Using Slang or Similes
It can be hard for dementia patients to understand what they are being told as their condition progresses. Slangs and similes which require more context for understanding can be difficult for dementia patients. This is why they are actually used in screening tests for dementia. Using slang or similes with dementia patients may usually result in them being confused or even taking your figure of speech literally. For example, saying break a leg may confuse a dementia patient and lead them to wonder why you are talking about a broken leg.
Get a Memory Care Professional with Excellent Communication Skills
Our Memory Care community provides excellent care options to support patients with dementia. Our team is trained and understands the nuances of communicating with someone with dementia. Contact us to learn how we can support your loved one today.