Tips for Communicating with Dementia
On Tuesday morning, I attended a terrific presentation by Dan Kuhn, author of The Art of Dementia Care and Alzheimer’s Early Stages: First Steps for Family, Friends and Caregivers. Dan offered tips to use when communicating with an individual with dementia or Alzheimer’s.
He offered a perspective on what it’s like for a caree with dementia: Imagine, Dan said, you are traveling to a foreign country and don’t speak the language. Or, have moved to the United States from another country and don’t speak English. Or, you arrive at a party that a friend invited you to, but your friend is a no-show and you don’t know anyone.
This perspective helps us understand the feelings of a caree with dementia, the feelings of fear, uncertainty, insecurity. The disease transports a caree into another land where they don’t speak the language. How awful is that.
To help us speak a caree’s language, Dan reminded us that only 7% of communication comes from our words. It’s our our voice and our body language that accounts for the bulk of communication. You can see why it’s so important to do your best to stay calm. When we’re stressed, we communicate that. When we’re calm, we communicate that.
To make communication easier, Dan suggests:
- Eliminating background noise
- Making eye contact
- Using your caree’s preferred name (perhaps your caree no longer answers to “Mon” but to “Phyllis”)
- Using touch and body language
When communicating, Dan shared these suggestions:
- Remember the 4 S’s: Smile, short, simple and show
- Use repetition
- Narrow down choices
- Break down steps
- Allow plenty of time for tasks to be completed; don’t outpace
- Allow plenty of time for your caree to respond to you
- Respond to your caree’s emotional tone
- Connect by whatever means necessary (movement, singing, praying, art, story-telling, dancing)
A few of my tips follow:
- If your caree is upset or sad, ask: What’s upsetting you? What’s making you sad? (As the disease progresses, these questions may not be appropriate.) We may think we know, but we never really know until we ask.
- Understand what helps your caree feel safe in his or her environment. Then, use these safety measures to help your caree feel comforted. (You can learn more about this tip in my comment on Bette’s post here.)
- Let go of the right way (of doing something, of describing something, of saying something) for both yourself and your caree. It’s right if it brings the desired results or if it brings comfort and meaning to your caree.
What tips can you add? What works for you? Please share in our comments section, below.
- Talking to Alzheimer’s: Simple Ways to Connect When You Visit with a Family Member or Friend by Claudia Strauss.
- Your Caregiving Journey airs tomorrow at 9 a.m. CT (10 a.m. ET, 7 a.m. PT). Kristin joins me for Table Talk. Listen to the live show (or download the podcast for later listening) here.
- What’s caregiving like for you? Share in our annual family caregiver survey, which closes tomorrow. Share here.
- Take a class in our Caregiving Summer School! We’ve got a class to help you start Mondays with a quiet and calm heart; to help you learn the meaning behind your journey; and to help you start your journal. Each class costs $27; Denise leads the class. Register here.
- Submit your story about “help” (however you define it) for our upcoming book. Deadline is July 1. You’ll find details here.
- A Tool to Measure Pain in Persons with Dementia (caregiving.com)
- Still Missing Her (caregiving.com)
- Alzheimer’s Diagnostic Guidelines Updated (caregiving.com)
- Taking the Follow (caregiving.com)
- Exemplary Programs that Support, Educate Family Caregivers Honored (caregiving.com)
- Nose to Nose Creates Deeper Relationships (caregiving.com)
- Lee Woodruff Answers Your Questions about Pain (caregiving.com)