Knowing how to talk to a senior with dementia helps you show respect. Good communication also makes it easier to be your aging loved one’s caregiver. These tips may help you feel more comfortable talking to your loved one as his or her dementia progresses.
Seniors with dementia may have difficulty understanding generalities. For instance, your parent may not always be able to figure out who you’re talking about when you mention his or her sister. When referring to people or places, try to use specific names. Being specific can jump-start the memory for seniors who find it challenging to make connections.
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While being specific works most of the time, you may also need to flip your technique in the other direction. If names confuse your loved one, try mentioning his or her relationship to a person or place. Rephrasing also works when you need to adjust to your loved one’s unique communication needs. If your loved one fails to understand something, try switching to a shorter, less complicated sentence to see if that helps.
Stick to the Topic
Trying to follow multiple threads of conversation is difficult for most people in general. For a senior with dementia, this task becomes even more challenging. Try addressing only one topic at a time. For instance, you may want to ask your loved one’s preferences for dinner. Then you can ask your loved one to talk about his or her day later as you eat.
Incorporate Nonverbal Cues
A lot can be said by using body language, and combining nonverbal cues with your speech may reinforce your point. For instance, you can point at the door as you ask your loved one to follow you. Nonverbal cues can also be images. Holding up pictures as you talk can make it easier for your loved one to pick up on what you’re trying to communicate. Alternatively, you can let your parent point at a list of pictures if he or she has difficulty coming up with certain words.
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Use a Respectful Tone
Older adults with dementia should be protected. However, that doesn’t mean they should be treated like children. Using a condescending voice similar to baby talk is a common mistake you should avoid. Although your loved one cannot always respond coherently, it’s possible he or she understands every word you say. Speak in a clear version of your normal voice to preserve your loved one’s dignity while also making it easier to focus on what you have to say.
Be Willing to Adapt
As time passes, most seniors with dementia experience more difficulties with communication. The strategies you use one day may not continue to work as the condition progresses. Make sure to change your techniques as needed to enhance communication. If necessary, ask professional dementia caregivers to share what works for them, or join a support group where you can connect with other people who are successfully working through similar challenges.
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