How to Communicate with an Older Parent Who Has Dementia

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Dementia poses several communication challenges for family caregivers. Cognitive decline often impairs a senior’s ability to express him or herself. Here are some strategies to help you relate successfully with your aging loved one with dementia.

Mentally Place Yourself in Your Loved One’s Position

Imagine what dementia is like and the communication problems it creates. This perspective will instantly prompt a surge in your empathy, understanding, and patience. In turn, you can interact with your loved one calmly.

Below are examples of communication challenges your loved one may have:

  • Losing his or her train of thought
  • Difficulty finding the right words
  • Repeating questions
  • Describing objects versus naming them
  • Difficulty saying words in the proper order
  • Using gestures rather than verbalizing

Bear in mind that distractions make it difficult for seniors with dementia to focus. Try to minimize them, such as by silencing a radio or TV. Choose a quiet environment for connecting with your loved one.

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Take an Easygoing Approach to Communicating

First, position yourself at eye level with your loved one. Then, while interacting, maintain eye contact with your parent, showing your genuine interest. Also, use a pleasant tone of voice, smiling when appropriate.

Dementia may cause your loved one to say something false, out of context, or accusatory. If so, avoid trying to correct your parent. If your loved one starts arguing, acknowledge his or her feelings, but redirect his or her attention. For instance, you can say “I understand you’re angry and upset, and I’m sorry about what happened. But let’s do something fun for now.” Then engage your loved one in a pleasant or grounding activity, such as coloring or folding laundry.

Encourage Your Loved One to Express Him or Herself

One way to help your parent express his or her thoughts is to speak slowly and clearly, use short sentences, and wait patiently for your loved one to respond. If your parent faces difficulty finding words, avoid interrupting him or her. After a respectful pause, suggest what your loved one might be trying to say.

Another way to prompt interaction is by offering simple choices. For easy decision-making, give no more than two options, such as choosing between wearing a blue shirt or a white one.

Since questions require complex mental processing, they can be challenging for your loved one to answer. Pose only one question at a time. When feasible, ask questions requiring one-word answers, such as “yes” or “no.” Also, try to be specific. For example, ask “Would you like tea with your lunch?” rather than “What do you want to drink?”

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Facilitate Following Instructions

When assisting your loved one with personal hygiene, divide the tasks into steps and gently urge your parent to do as much as he or she can independently. If your loved one has forgotten how, offer hints. For instance, with oral care, put the toothbrush in your parent’s hand and apply the toothpaste. You could also demonstrate how to perform a particular task, such as combing your own hair.

If your loved one doesn’t understand an explanation, rephrase your words or break down the description into small bits of information, giving them by degrees. Some people with dementia communicate best in writing. If that’s the case for your loved one, exchange notes with each other.

Provide Continual Affection, Reassurance, & Praise

Whenever your loved one gets frustrated, tell him or her you understand. Your compassion may be able to alleviate your parent’s agitation.

Gentle touch can also console your loved one. For example, place your hand on your parent’s shoulder, arm, or hand, or give him or her a heartfelt hug. Note how your loved one reacts and gauge his or her comfort level. If your loved one tries to escape your touch, stick to verbal reassurance.

Meanwhile, earnestly praise your parent’s achievements, even if it’s something as simple as remembering how to brush his or her teeth. Also, applaud your loved one when he or she follows your prompts and hints correctly.

If your senior loved one has been diagnosed with a serious condition and needs help with tasks like meal prep, transportation, bathing, and grooming, reach out to Assisting Hands Home Care, a leading provider of home care Miami Beach, FL, families can trust. We also offer comprehensive care for seniors with dementia, Alzheimer’s, and Parkinson’s. Reach out to one of our Care Managers today at (305) 564-6251 to learn more about our high-quality home care services.