10 Tips to Help Those with Dementia Communicate Better

Clinical Expertise

by Jodi Morgan, CCC-SLP, Aphasia Center Manager | Jun 30, 2017

“Memory is a way of holding onto things you love, the things you are, the things you never want to lose.” This is a favorite quote of mine from the TV show, “The Wonder Years.” It illustrates how devastating a diagnosis of dementia can be.

According to the World Health Organization, the number of people living with dementia worldwide is currently estimated at 47 million and is projected to increase to 75 million by 2030. Alzheimer’s is the most common type of dementia with approximately 65-80 percent of all those living with dementia have Alzheimer’s disease.

Dementia is generally a progressive disease, characterized by declining mental abilities, especially the ability to think, reason and remember. Eventually these symptoms affect communication, work performance, social activities and daily functioning. This can be overwhelming for those with dementia, as well as their loved ones and families.

People living with dementia deserve care especially designed for them. It’s important to focus on their strengths and interests. Much of the latest research shows that learning new information and its retention depends heavily on HOW it is presented.

Family and staff tend to base their interactions on abilities/skills found in declarative memory, the conscious, intentional recollection of factual information, previous experiences and concepts. This can lead the person with dementia to experience failure in a given task, reduction in self-esteem and a reluctance to take an active role in their daily life.

We need to focus on the HOW (non-declarative memory). We need to be good communicators!

Here are the top 10 communication tips for loved ones with dementia:

  1. Be positive in every way! Avoid criticizing or correcting.
  2. Limit distractions. Turn off the TV or radio when talking.
  3. Use their first name to get their attention.
  4. State your message simply and clearly.
  5. Encourage communication with questions. Ask a simple question, then WAIT. Listen for the answer.
  6. If they are having trouble with directions, show them how to do it.
  7. Encourage reminiscing. Try to engage them with scrapbooks, Pinterest albums or ask them to write scripts about themselves.
  8. Focus on their non-verbal clues, like tone of voice and their body language, and less on facts.
  9. Use humor when appropriate and concentrate on their interests.
  10. If nothing else works, redirect them and acknowledge their feelings. For example, “I see you’re sad, why don’t we take a walk?”

People with dementia can improve with the right therapy. I was recently approached by the wife of a gentleman with dementia. Her husband was about to celebrate his 80th birthday and all he wanted was the ability to remember the names of his loved ones at his party. I worked with him for two months and he was able to remember everyone. We also worked on techniques to improve his general quality of life.

The most important thing to remember is to never give up hope.

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