Visiting Angels Lewisburg Blog

Communication Strategies for a Loved One with Dementia

Effective communication is multifaceted and complex, including for those of us that are physically and cognitively well. And even then, we have an occasional miscommunication with friends or loved ones despite our best efforts. If we break communication down to the foundation, it requires these skills: Two women having tea together

  1. Articulation: Articulation is the ability to use oral motor skills to speak words clearly. It requires the proper physical functioning of the tongue, lips, and teeth to form the words.
  2. Cognition: Cognition encompasses the ability of the brain to receive and process information that has been presented (receptive language) and the ability to organize thoughts in the brain to express outwardly (expressive language). Memory is a baseline requirement to retain information coming in, then convey new information.
  3. Body Language/Non-verbal Communication: As Ralph Waldo Emerson said: “What you do speaks so loud I can’t hear what you say.” We begin communicating before we say a word, as evidenced by our facial expressions and posture. Body language can be helpful or diminished with dementia.
  4. Hearing: The ability to physically hear incoming information is required to communicate effectively for those of us unfamiliar with sign language.

As we can see, if one or more of the skills mentioned above is impaired, we have obstacles to effective communication. Here are a few examples that can occur as a result of dementia:

  • Dementia can impact parts of the brain responsible for oral motor skills resulting in difficulty moving the tongue and lips effectively to form words without slurring them. If teeth are missing or broken, articulation may also be affected.
  • The hallmark symptom of dementia is memory loss. Therefore, communication can be impaired when our loved ones with dementia cannot remember what they just heard or said. The brain changes will cause difficulty with formulating thoughts, finding the right words, and the pathway to express them.
  • Given brain changes occur from dementia, a person may lose the automatic physical movements of body language, such as facial expressions. This loss of expression can make it more challenging to understand intent.

Now that we know what barriers often occur with dementia, what are the best strategies to communicate with our loved one effectively?

Be Flexible and Patient

The ability to communicate can vary day-to-day. Your loved ones with dementia may take an extended amount of time trying to express something and get very frustrated when they realize you don’t understand. Allow ample time for the person to express themselves without interruption.

Keep It Short and Simple

Too many words can overwhelm a person with dementia. They often understand requests best when they are short and straightforward. If it does not appear they comprehend, try to rephrase another way succinctly.

Consider Alternate Forms of Communication

Sometimes other means of communication can be more successful for a loved one with dementia. For example, using physical cues or body language instead of words can be helpful such as pointing and gesturing. Picture cues are another option. If the person with dementia can look at pictures of common words or items, they can point to the image to alert a caregiver what they are asking for, such as “drink,” “food,” or “bathroom.” Augmentative communication devices are a higher-tech means of communication for people to use also. IPads or other tablets may have apps that can be downloaded and used to facilitate communication. The Alzheimer’s Association has an extensive resource on effective communication here.

Take a Break

Communicating with a senior family member with dementia can be exhausting and frustrating for all involved. There may come a time when you need to take a break. If that time comes, Visiting Angels Lewisburg is here to help. As the premier in-home senior care provider in Lewisburg, PA, and surrounding areas, we designed our Respite Care program to meet the needs of family caregivers and to allow you to step away temporarily with peace of mind.

If you would like to explore in-home care for your loved one with dementia, please call us at 570-989-4247 or contact us online today to learn more about how we can help.

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