We often talk about the importance of communicating clearly and effectively if we want to get our point across. Imagine trying to do this when your brain won’t let you. You know what you want to say but the words come out in scrambled, broken sentences.
That’s exactly what dementia does to the brain. The severity of communication problems varies from person to person. It presents real challenges for loved ones, carers and the dementia sufferer as they struggle to decode the scrambled messages.
That’s why the best thing you can do is be a GOOD LISTENER and get to know the “codewords” that let you decipher the messages. Your communication will have to be adapted to ensure you relay messages in a way that are clearly understood.
You will need to think about TONE, SPEED, CONTENT, CLARITY, VOLUME and your facial expressions and body language.
Again, the communication style needs to be tailored to meet the needs of the person.
Believe me it’s not easy – but when you get it right it can “spark” people with dementia back to life. It takes time, tremendous patience and understanding.
Here’s some tips to help you communicate effectively with people living with dementia.
- If the person finds verbal communication difficult, speak slightly more slowly and use simple words and sentences. Be more aware of the tone you adopt.
- A person with dementia may use their behaviour and body language to communicate, such as gestures, eye contact and facial expressions. Carers’ non-verbal communication is also important, and the person with dementia can notice or pick up on expressions and gestures.
- Try to maintain eye contact. This will help the person focus on you.
- Try to avoid sudden movements and tense facial expressions, as these may cause upset or distress.
- Try not to stand too close or stand over someone when communicating – it may make them feel intimidated.
- Make sure the person is included in conversations. Try not to speak on their behalf, complete sentences for them or allow others to exclude them.
- Listen to the person. Give them plenty of time, remove distractions like background noise and try to work out the meaning they are trying to convey. The message may be about feelings, not just facts.
- Avoid asking too many direct questions. Consider giving the person options or asking questions with a yes or no answer.
I hope this article has encouraged you to think about your communication style. When you get it right, it can make the world of difference to people’s lives..