Published on: September 27, 2013
by UT San Diego:
Losing the ability to verbally communicate can be one of the most frustrating and difficult issues for people with dementia, their families and caregivers. The person with dementia experiences a gradual decline in the ability to communicate, finding it increasingly difficult to understand others and to clearly convey what he/she needs.
Diane Darby Beach, MPH, Ed.D, director of education and outreach for Vista Gardens Memory Care Community, explains the frustrating issue of communication in dementia patients.
Possible Communication Changes:
• He/she may have difficulty finding a word. A related or nonsensical word might be uttered instead of the one not remembered.
• He/she may lose the ability to follow or join in a conversation or may fail to respond when spoken to.
• He/she may not be able to understand what is being said or only comprehend part of it.
• He/she may use full sentences and familiar words, but not make sense.
• Reading and/or writing skills may diminish/deteriorate.
• Emotions may be inappropriately expressed.
It is important to know that while the person with dementia’s verbal skills are deteriorating, their non-verbal communication skills are still very much intact. Communication is 70 percent non-verbal. This includes body language, facial expressions, posture/gestures and the tone of voice. This is of critical importance to know for families and caregivers. Specifically, any negative non-verbal communication we display can be easily picked up by the person with dementia.
• Speak in a gentle manner.
• Keep sentences short and simple, giving instructions one step at a time.
• Allow ample time for what you have said to be understood and for he/she to respond. Fill in words when needed.
• Try to avoid over-stimulation via the TV, computer or radio.
• Maintain regular routines which help reduce agitation and confusion.
• Don’t argue or confront the person with dementia.
• Don’t tell the person with dementia what they can’t do. Re-frame in a positive light by emphasizing what they can do.
• Don’t be critical. A critical or judgmental tone of voice can be picked up (even when the words don’t make sense).
• Don’t remind him/her that something was forgotten or repeated.
• Don’t talk in front of the person with dementia as if he/she is not present.
Because each person with dementia is different, some of these strategies will work for some, but not for others. The key is to keep trying.
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