One of the biggest challenges of dementia is that it can affect a person’s ability to speak and communicate their needs. This must be so frustrating for the person and for their loved ones. Often people withdraw from social circles as the effort to convey their needs and ways of getting their voice heard becomes too hard and takes time. Bearing in mind that their brain also may be slower in processing information and slower in gathering thoughts to communicate back, here are ways that can help you stay connected and communicate together:
Take time, give your loved one time to express themselves
Being stressed can make speaking and communicating harder when you have dementia. It is important not to rush your loved one or finish their sentences for them. When we slow down, we can take more notice of non-verbal communication, this includes facial expressions, gestures, posture and movement. Be present with them, face them on the same level and maintain eye contact. Take a moment to be still and mindful, try and learn to respond without emotion. Also, be mindful that if your loved one’s mother tongue is different from the language they have spoken for most of their lives, they may revert back to old language or a mixture of both. The use of picture cards may be helpful here.
Be aware of possible hearing loss
Don’t shout or over exaggerate and make sure background noise is at a minimum. You can speak a little slower but make sure that the natural rhythm of your speech is maintained. Also make sure that if your loved one wears a hearing aid, that it is in working order and try and arrange regular visits to your audiology clinic. Try and involve family and friends in helping you with hospita visits.
Feelings are often communicated more easily than facts
Often where speech and language deteriorate, the language of emotions step in. It is important to recognise your loved one’s need to communicate and here you may need to find creative ways of doing so. If they appear stressed, they may not be able to express that they are hungry, in pain or need the toilet. People who have dementia may speak more in metaphor or skirt around those “lost” words using other well used phrases. It is important to listen to what is being communicated, not solely by concentrating on the words being spoken, but more by the feelings being conveyed.
It is so important to show that you are listening. Sit together on the same level and use eye contact, you may say something like “I know it must be hard not being able to tell me what you want to say, but I am here for you.”
Avoid contradicting or correcting
Be aware that whatever your loved one is saying; their reality is real to them. For instance, if your loved one insists on going out in the rain without a coat, their reality may be very different to yours. Try and say to them “I believe it is raining outside, shall we put our coats on?” that way you are being honest but not challenging or contradicting them. We must try to imagine how we would feel. Also, be kind to yourself, it is tiring when one of you has difficulty with communicating, take some slow deep breaths be in the moment.
There are more suggestions and tips to help you learn to re-connect and communicate with your loved one in my book, Finding the Light in Dementia, a Guide for Families, Friends and Caregivers www.findingthelightindementia.com