Compassion and Clarity: Communicating with a Person with Dementia

People living with Dementia, such as Alzheimer’s disease or Vascular Dementia, have a progressive biological brain disorder that makes it challenging to think clearly, remember things, take care of themselves, and communicate with others. Furthermore, the condition can cause mood swings, personality changes, and behavioural issues.

Has someone close to you recently been diagnosed with the disease? Knowing how to care for someone living with Dementia — particularly how to communicate effectively and compassionately with them — isn’t an intuitive skill. You learn such knowledge through experience and listening to trained healthcare professionals.

Consider these tips that professionals use to provide practical and empathetic strategies for handling the communication issues often experienced when caring for a loved one living with Dementia.

Be Positive

Anyone can sense when someone is in a bad mood. Either from the tense body language or the tone of voice, a bad mood is easy to spot. People living with Dementia are no different — if you come into their home with a negative attitude and a chip on your shoulder, they will pick up on this and not react positively.

Set a happy mood by speaking respectfully and pleasantly. Pay attention to your tone of voice, facial expressions, and physical touch.

Keep It Simple

Speaking in concise sentences will make it easier for your loved one to understand what you’re trying to communicate. Living with Dementia affects how people interpret information, and it can become frustrating when they feel confused or lost in conversation. Avoid speaking in a loud or high voice; use a soft, lower pitch instead.

You’ll also want to keep your speech slow and be prepared to repeat questions several times when they don’t understand your question right away. Instead of using pronouns (she, he, they), use specific names of places and people.

Exercise Patience and Compassion

A good rule of thumb is to listen with your heart, eyes, and ears. If you can see that your loved one isn’t understanding a situation or is visibly upset by something, take a minute to pause and slow down. You can ask them what’s bothering them. It’s ok to suggest words if they’re struggling to communicate.

Look for non-verbal cues such as their posture and facial expression. If you can tell that they don’t want to do something, like go for a walk, let them tell you through their eyes and body language. Exercise patience and be gentle with your reactions.

Show Reassurance and Affection

Your loved one may feel anxious without having the ability to let you know. They may also confuse reality and remember things that never actually happened. Try not to correct them and maintain that positive attitude.

Their feelings are real, and you must respect their thoughts at the moment. Hold their hand and reassure them that they’re in a safe space. Distract them a little and praise them by complimenting their outfit or hair. By offering physical touch and acclaim, you’re helping them feel good about themselves and reminding them that they’re not alone.

You can help your loved one feel comfortable and live a peaceful life by providing compassion, a hand to hold, and clear communication.