I raised my voice, as if I my friend could understand me better if I turned up the volume.  Turns out, there are far better ways to communicate with the confused and demented, as I learned from a presentation sponsored by the Alzheimer’s Association.

The Alzheimer’s Person’s World

Ability to communicate changes as dementia progresses. It is difficult to remain connected to others when you can no longer find the right words, or process what a person is saying to you. Even your eyes can play tricks on you. You think a speck on the wall is a spider.  You may feel pain, but cannot express that to others, or recall the word for “pain.”  Unfamiliar surroundings can be frightening. It may be too noisy. You can no longer put together coherent sentences. You become more anxious but have no way to convey that to your caregiver — and who is that person hovering over you, anyway?

Ten Tips for Effective Communication

  • Unlike I did, use a softer, lower voice. The lower pitch is especially helpful for someone who is hard of hearing as well.
  • Talk slowly and clearly.
  • Be patient.
  • Approach the person from the front. Make eye contact, even if you must kneel so you are face to face with someone in a chair.
  • Unless they ask, do not try to “orient” them to time and place. It will not help and may upset them. Do not ask if they “remember” thus and such, either. They do not remember.
  • Focus on feelings, not facts.
  • Use redirection. Change the subject, to steer them away from anxiety provoking topics.
  • Try to keep their environment and conversation as pleasant as possible.
  • Be a sleuth to discover what is creating the anxiety they may be displaying. Are they feeling uncomfortable or have pain anywhere? What recently occurred that may have stressed them? Is the room too hot, cold, or noisy?
  • Finally, one time it’s not wrong to lie — a “therapeutic fib” may keep them relaxed or get them to cooperate (like get into the car for a doctor’s appointment).

As care givers, we want to make their world as soothing and supportive as possible. Using a gentle, relaxed tone of voice and patient approach goes a long way to create a comfortable environment for people struggling with dementia. And sometimes we care givers need to step away for a few “soothing” moments for ourselves as well, once our loved ones are in a safe place.

Being a care giver for someone with dementia is heart rending. The person you once knew and loved is fading bit by bit. Using effective ways to communicate through the dementia reduces frustration and helps keep you connected for as long as possible.

For more information and help, visit www.alz.org.