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Talking to Someone with Dementia

Tips for Talking to a Loved One with Dementia

If you have a friend or loved one who is dealing with dementia, you know it can sometimes be challenging to carry on a conversation. Because patients with dementia are easily confused or distracted, it’s important to keep a few tips in mind to minimize frustration on their part.

After all, your goal is to keep your loved ones engaged, involved, and informed as much as possible.

Create a focused environment

Distractions can make it very difficult for dementia patients to follow and stay engaged in a conversation. If you can, find a place to chat with limited background noise. If you’re able to meet at home, make sure others who aren’t involved in the conversation remain in another room. In addition, it can be a good idea to turn off the TV or radio as a way to eliminate further distractions.

If your loved one is living in a personal care or memory care residence, shut the door to reduce noises from the hallway. Then, use simple techniques to get your loved one's attention and hold it.

● Call your relative by name. Don't become upset if he or she doesn't remember your name; just identify yourself and move on.

● Make eye contact and maintain it.

● Use a light touch on the shoulder,

forearm, or hand.

Pay attention to body language

When you’re communicating with someone, it’s always helpful to remember that words are only half of the conversation. Paying attention to body language, and using affirming body language of your own, can help with conversational gaps. Sit as closely as you comfortably can and use encouraging gestures lik

e nods and smiles. Pay attention to their body language too. If they’re tired or frustrated, you’ll be able to tell, and it might be a sign to cut your visit short.

Keep It Simple

Complex questions and difficult trains of thought can derail a conversation for someone with dementia. Keep your statements simple, and make sure you allow extra time for them to respond. If they’re having trouble understanding, be prepared to repeat and rephrase as necessary. If you aren’t sure what they said, repeat it back to them and ask for confirmation. Speak slowly and be sure the conversation moves at a pace that is comfortable for both of you.

Be Specific

People with dementia may have difficulty retaining information during an extended conversation. Avoid using vague references to minimize possible confusion. For example, refer to individuals by their names rather than “he,” “she,” or “they.” Mention events as specifically as possible. Rather than reference “the game,” use more precise language such as “Jason’s soccer game last week.” By being more specific, you allow your loved one to focus on the topic rather than becoming distracted by trying to recall who “he” is.

Pay attention to what works

Dementia affects everyone differently, so there is no one-size-fits-all method for communicating with someone who has it. Instead, experts recommend keeping track of what works. Is it easier for your loved one to focus in the morning than at night? Do certain prompts help, like photos or starter phrases? Talk to others who communicate with them too, and share tips and ideas as appropriate.

Consider a change in living arrangements

If your loved one is living alone or in assisted living with dementia, it may be time to consider transitioning to more specialized care designed for patients with dementia. You can learn more about the specialized memory care available at Crimson Village – as well as our amenities, floor plans, and medical support available – by contacting our helpful team members by email at or by phone at 205-632-6699 to discuss your specific needs.

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