Tips for communicating with someone living with dementia

Caring for a loved one with Alzheimer's or another form of dementia takes dedication, love and patience. Seniors living with dementia can have difficulty remembering things and communicating with others, which may discourage them from interacting at all. Changes in mood can also be an effect of dementia, so it's important to keep your loved one's behavioural challenges in mind when approaching them.

Here are a few helpful tips for communicating with someone with dementia.

Before you speak
Before you begin speaking to your loved one, the Alzheimer's Association of Canada recommends reducing distractions in the environment. For example, turn down the television or radio in the room or move to a secluded area. Once you're ready to communicate, make sure to use eye contact. It's also important that your loved one uses their glasses or hearing aid, if prescribed. You want to make sure they are fully capable of hearing and seeing you to avoid frustration.

Relocate to a space with little to no distractions.
Relocate to a space with little to no distractions.

During conversation
Dementia Friends Canada, an Alzheimer's Society and Government of Canada initiative, suggests approaching a senior with dementia for conversation just as you would with anyone else. Don't single them out or make them feel uncomfortable. If they seem startled or confused, try speaking slowly and calmly. Use short, simple sentences and ask "yes" or "no" questions instead of making them try to explain their thoughts. Always make sure to ask one question at a time and to leave plenty of time for them to answer.

"Communication is equal parts speaking and listening."

Always listen carefully
Communication is equal parts speaking and listening. According to the Alzheimer's Association, listening closely to what the person is saying is just as important as paying attention to non-verbal communication. Make sure you're being extremely patient and try not to interrupt them even if you know what they are trying to say. Let them take the time to explain their thoughts. If you notice that they are having trouble finding the right words to say and they ask you for help, then you can calmly offer a suggestion or guess as to what you believe they were trying to say.  If you don't understand what they have said, don't make an assumption. Simply ask them the same question in a different way to see if you understood.

At Chartwell Retirement Residences, a variety of care options are offered to fit the needs of all seniors, including memory care for those seniors living with dementia. For more information on Chartwell's Memory Care program, click here.