Talking with someone who has dementia or Alzheimer’s is accomplished by addressing him or her much in the same way that you would when speaking to a child. Use simple words spoken in an even, encouraging tone of voice, make eye contact, use expressive body language, and above all exercise patience.
Here are a few tips that will prove helpful in communicating with anyone going through age-related memory loss.
#1 Create a Calm Environment
Before starting a conversation, remove as many distractions from the environment as possible. This includes background noises, other people moving around or talking, and anything that interferes audibly, visually, or physically. Close doors to rooms, turn off the television, and ask others not to interrupt you during your visit.
Removal of these disturbances will promote calmness for you and the other person. When addressing the individual, call them by their name. Don’t take it personally, if they do not recognize you or address you by a different name. Instead, focus on keeping his or her attention by gently holding their hand or placing your hand on their arm or should and getting them to look you in the eyes. Even if the person isn’t able to communicate very well verbally, they are still able to pick up on vibes and attitudes.
#2 Keep Language Simple
Using a lower pitch versus a higher pitched voice will enable you to capture the person’s attention easier. Remain patient, even when you have to repeat yourself multiple times. Again, a dementia patient is still very aware of energy levels.
Word selection is important as well. Use short sentences and hand gestures as much as possible. One or two syllable words will be easier for the person to comprehend and when discussing other individuals, use names instead of pronouns. For example, instead of asking, “Mom, is he going downtown?” say, “Mom, is Steve going to Billy’s baseball game?”
#3 Redirect Attention
Sometimes you may experience your loved one becoming upset or agitated when they can’t remember something. This happens more often when the person is tired. Rather than asking questions in an effort to help them remember, change the subject entirely. Redirect their attention by telling them about a different topic or cause a distraction by inviting them to take a walk with you.
Determine when your loved one is most lucid. For instance, if your mom was always a morning person, you may find that she still functions best during that time of day. Memory loss makes communication difficult, but not impossible.
Above all, never be stingy on the hugs and soothing words. Often they understand much more than they are able to express, so the most important factor is your presence and expression of appreciation, acceptance, and love.