Communication with a Dementia Patient
Some things to know before you interact with a loved one who is experiencing dementia
Dementia is a term used to describe a group of symptoms that affect thought processes and memory in a way that interferes with day-to-day life. Several diseases can cause dementia, the most well know of which is Alzheimer’s disease.
Some common signs and symptoms of dementia include:
- Memory loss, severe enough that it is noticed by someone else
- Trouble with communicating or finding words
- Difficulty handling complex tasks
- Having a hard time planning and organizing
- Difficulty with reasoning, problem-solving, and decision-making
- Sleep problems
- Confusion and disorientation
- Anxiety and depression
- Paranoia and agitation
Some common triggers for dementia symptoms are:
- Change in environment
- Having personal space invaded
- Being overwhelmed
The onset of dementia typically happens gradually. In the early stages, most symptoms are manageable and may be passed off as nothing to worry about. As the disease progresses, there are more noticeable instances of memory loss and confusion and your loved one may themselves become concerned and frustrated. After a diagnosis of dementia, when following thought processes become difficult, it can be hard for friends and family to know how to communicate with their loved one.
People with dementia think about the same things that any human thinks about. A diagnosis of dementia does not remove your loved one’s personhood. It only makes their normal thought processes more difficult.
Some tips that can help create a less stressful environment for communication:
- Don't talk to your loved one as you would to a child. Be respectful and remember that their difficulty is due to a brain disorder. They are not reverting to the thoughts of a child; they are having difficulty thinking their own thoughts.
- Communicate clearly and calmly using short, simple sentences.
- Try to communicate in a conversational manner. Do not confront them with repeated questions.
- Do not argue. Anything they say that feels confrontive cannot be important enough to create an argument with them. Let it go.
- Don't ask your loved one if they can remember a particular event or person. Allow them to bring up their own memories and base any conversation on what they present. Make questions open-ended by beginning them with “how or what” and not “who, when, or where”.
- Experts say that if your loved one asks you what's wrong with them, you should be honest. It can be a relief to know they are suffering from a disease when they are experiencing symptoms that feel out of control.
How will your relationship change when your loved one has dementia?
As your loved one’s symptoms progress, your relationship with them will change. It may be difficult to watch their previous abilities diminish. You may have to move from your past role with them to one of being more of a caregiver. You will likely experience feelings of loss and grief, but it is possible to discover new and different ways of sharing closeness, comfort, and intimacy after a diagnosis of dementia. Your loved one is still the same person. Consider activities that you can enjoy together that do not require the stress of testing their incapacities. Ask them if there is anything they would like to do with you, then follow their lead.
Get support for yourself
As the disease causing the dementia spreads to other parts of the brain and your loved one experiences more symptoms, you can expect to have many emotions arise. It is important to find support for yourself so that you can be there for your loved one in a healthy way. Share your feelings with friends and family or a professional counselor. Attend a Dementia Support group, or talk with a religious leader. There are various programs that were created especially for the support of friends and family of those with dementia.
Consider a Professional Caregiver
Hiring a professional caregiver can not only provide relief and support, but it can also turn a highly stressful situation into one that allows for a less demanding relationship with your loved one. Having an additional person who is responsible to help with your loved one’s care can be a game changer. A professional caregiver can help with everything involved in the day-to-day management of your loved one. You can find a professional caregiver through our website, whether you need someone full-time, or for just a few hours a week. Right at Home will work with you to select the perfect, qualified, professional caregiver to make sure that your loved one’s needs are met. Each caregiver is screened and bonded to ensure professionalism. Our unique five-step process will provide just the right fit for your family. Contact us today at 631.352.0022 and ask for a FREE in-home consultation. You can also download our free Dementia Guide for additional information.