Communication and Dementia
The term ‘dementia’ refers to a collection of symptoms that combine to affect how the brain functions. We commonly see dementia in older people, but it can affect people in their 40s and 50s as well. With our ageing population, many of us may know someone – a grandparent, a friend, a parent – who is affected by this condition, but we may not know how best to support them.
There are many different types of dementia, and each has its own effects on the brain. The most common areas affected are usually our ability to think clearly, how we can perform daily tasks, and even our communication and personality. While these changes can be frustrating and challenging for both the person and their loved ones, we can use a few simple strategies to help make communication easier!
Top Tips for Communicating with a Person with Dementia:
- Get their attention: make sure the person is focused on you! Limit background distractions by turning off the television, moving to a quiet place, or shut the door. Use the person’s name when addressing them, and make sure you tell them who you are (name and relation/job can be helpful!).
- Positive mood: set yourself up for communication success! Be mindful of your own body language and the words you use. Use other methods of communication such as touch, facial expressions, and tone of voice to help convey your message.
- Short and Sweet: use short, simple sentences to state your message as clearly as possible. If asking a question, try to frame the question so that it is simple to answer, such as a yes or no question. Offer the person choices by presenting some options, and where possible, show the real objects – for example, “would you like eggs or cereal for breakfast?”
- Listen with your ears, eyes, and heart: listen to what the person says, but also pay attention to their body language. People with dementia can become confused and agitated; try to remember that the person is feeling unsure and anxious, and try to listen to the feelings and meanings that the person is trying to communicate. Provide gentle reassurance and affection to the person to let them know they are safe and loved.
- The good old days: if the person is confused or upset, it can help to talk about the past. People with dementia often have more difficulty with short-term memory, but many can remember details about their past and experiences. Reminiscing about things that they themselves can remember can be a comfort. People with dementia often enjoy a laugh, so don’t be afraid to use humour!
For more information about dementia and how to support a loved one or friend with dementia, Dementia Australia has many useful online resources, as well as a National Dementia Helpline. They can be contacted via www.dementia.org.au or 1800 100 500.
-by Isabel Devery
Isabel became a Speech Pathologist because she is passionate about helping people and loves to watch her clients reach their goals. She loves to work with clients across a broad range of ages and presentations. If you love bad jokes and even worse puns, you’ll get along with Isabel just fine! Isabel likes: baking, crime documentaries, puppy dogs, and ice cream. Isabel dislikes: spiders, cockroaches, and running out of ice cream. Favourite colour: orange
“Always be a little kinder than neccessary” – Anonymous