5 tips for communicating with a person with dementia

Caring for someone who has dementia brings along many challenges.

08 January 2015
by Jennifer Campbell

According to Jill Robson, regional director of Alzheimer’s South Africa, improving the way you communicate with a dementia patient can help to make caregiving less stressful, and will likely improve the quality of your relationship. We asked her for some tips:

1. Use body language

“It’s important to remember that we communicate both verbally and non verbally,” says Robson. Non-verbal communication in the form of gestures, touch, facial expressions and body language is very important when communicating with someone who has dementia. 

2. Limit distractions

People with dementia are easily distracted so having a conversation in a quiet environment is key. Robson suggests sitting somewhere with minimal noise from other people’s conversations and away from the TV and radio. Often a light touch on the person’s arm or hand can refocus them. “It is not necessary to shout as that may also cause the person to become distressed,” says Robson.

3. Don’t argue

Robson says that a golden rule when interacting with a dementia patient is that one should never argue. “Use humour and laugh about misunderstandings and mistakes – it can really help to bring you closer together, and relieve some of the pressure,” she says. It also helps to try to include the person in conversations with others. Being included in social groups can help preserve a sense of identity and reduce feelings of exclusion.

4. Stay calm

“Having a stress-free environment is essential. Make sure you are calm and not projecting your own stresses into the conversation,” says Robson. Always bear in mind that if the conversation really isn’t working it’s better to walk away and try again later.

5. Follow some basic rules

  • Speak clearly and use short, simple sentences.
  • Speak at a slightly slower pace than you normally would.
  • Remember that people with dementia usually respond best to questions asked one at a time and ideally phrased so that a “yes” or “no” answer is sufficient.
  • If the person doesn't understand what you are saying, try to get the message across in a different way, rather than simply repeating the same thing. You could try breaking down complex explanations into smaller parts or using written words or objects.
  • If the person says something you know to be incorrect, try to find ways of steering the conversation around the subject rather than contradicting them directly.

IMAGE CREDIT: 123rf.com