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Dementia & Communication

This is article is about understanding people with dementia and how to communicate with them.

Last weekend, I participated in Alzheimer’s walk.  It was heart breaking to learn that every 69 seconds; someone in the United States develops Alzheimer’s disease. Communicating with an Alzheimer’s patient is totally different from our normal day-to-day communication. Here I would like to share some of techniques that are useful in dealing with an Alzheimer’s patient.

Although there are numerous articles in internet about how to communicate and deal with a dementia/Alzheimer’s patient, I would like to share my first hand experience in effective communication with a dementia person.

People with dementia experience difficulty expressing their needs, concerns, and even memories. They may use wrong or inappropriate words or say the first thing that comes to mind. When inappropriate remarks are made, caregivers should remember that such remarks reflect a disease process, not to take it personal.

Caregivers must also be aware of nonverbal signals given by people with dementia. Although people with dementia may not be able to express that they are cold, tired, hungry, or in pain, there are nonverbal ways that they may convey this information. Look for shivers or grimaces of pain, for example.

Nonverbal communication by the caregiver to the persons with dementia is also important. The way an individual with dementia is approached can positively or negatively affect interaction. For example, approaching someone in the late stage of dementia with a smile and soothing voice increases the likelihood that they will be relaxed and open to communicating. Appearing or sounding angry can be very threatening and lead the individual with dementia to become frightened or agitated. Thus, even if a behavior is frustrating to the caregiver, remain calm and express anger elsewhere. Other helpful techniques include the following:

  • Approach the person from the front and maintain eye contact at all times
  • Speak and move slowly
  • Tell the individual who you are and why you are there
  • Particularly in the early stage of dementia when deficits are minimal (and for some, well into the middle stage), speak directly to the individual with dementia rather than directing questions to the caregiver only. This
    helps to maintain dignity and demonstrates respect for the older adult.  Directing questions to the person with dementia in the presence of the caregiver will give the caregiver the opportunity to clarify any misinformation.
  • Minimize distractions, particularly when giving instructions
  • Use few words, and words that are familiar to the individual
  • Ask one question at a time or give one step of instruction at a time
  • Ask questions that don’t require memory or complicated reasoning
  • Ask yes/no question when possible
  • Allow adequate time to respond
  • Repeat questions using the same words.  If there is still no response, try rephrasing
  • Remain calm, particularly if the individual becomes agitated. Responding to the agitation with upset only escalates the situation
  • Use nonverbal communication such as smiles, nods, and gestures. Be
    careful with touch. Individuals with dementia need as much as before the onset of the illness, but cultural traditions and personal preferences, along with fears of strangers, my limit the amount of touch that the individual with dementia can tolerate
  • Use distraction to minimize inappropriate or unwanted behavior

Just be a good listener.

By:  Fay Vahdani at Luxe Homecare.   www.LuxeHomeCare.com

This post is contributed by a community member. The views expressed in this blog are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect those of Patch Media Corporation. Everyone is welcome to submit a post to Patch. If you'd like to post a blog, go here to get started.

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