Tips for Communicating with a Dementia Sufferer
As loved ones age and begin to lose the power of their memory, relating to and communicating with them can become increasingly difficult. However, remaining close with these friends and family members is important. Keeping in mind these tips can ensure your relationships with dementia sufferers remain strong when they need you most.
Set the Stage
When visiting a loved one with dementia, creating a positive environment can set the mood. Go into a quiet room that is free from lots of people, noise and/or other distractions. Focus your attention on your loved one, offering reassuring hugs, smiles and a tone of affection when you speak.
Though it may feel awkward to introduce yourself to your own cousin, mother or close friend, try an easy and casual segue such as, “Hi Mary, it’s your cousin Jan. It’s so good to see you again.” This lets the dementia sufferer know right away who you are and offers a familiarity so there is less initial confusion or fear of an unrecognizable face.
Keep it Simple
Asking a lot of open-ended questions such as “what would you like to do?” might prove confusing or overwhelming for the dementia sufferer. Rephrase questions in a simple and direct manner such as, “Would you like to take a walk?”
Retelling the Past
Though dementia sufferers may have trouble recalling something that happened yesterday, they likely still have strong memories of their past. Asking about their childhood, or asking them to recall a fond family memory is a great way to bond and connect.
Keep it Short
Elderly people suffering from dementia may become emotionally worn out from a visit from a guest, as even a well-intentioned visit can cause them anxiety or confusion. Limit the time you spend, and pay close attention to their body language. If they become distraught when you have to go, assure them you will come back to see them very soon, and then redirect their attention as you leave.
During a visit, the friend or loved one may likely repeat a story or ask questions over and over again. Hearing the same story or repeating who you are can become frustrating, but try to respond in a calm and kind manner.
As with any health condition, knowing how to act with, or what to say to, a dementia sufferer may seem strange at first. However, it will become easier to navigate these unchartered waters the more you do it. Don’t give up, and ask for help from a caregiver or expert if you need support.