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Tips for Communicating with a Person who has Dementia

The challenges of caring for a person with dementia are multiple. Dementia is not being forgetful; we are all forgetful. Irreversible dementia (such as Alzheimer’s Disease, Multi-infarct (TIAs), AIDS, and many others) is a progressive biological brain disorder that makes it more and more difficult for people to remember things, think clearly, communicate with others and take care of themselves. Dementia can cause mood swings and even change a person’s personality and behavior.

Always remembering the person’s behavior changes are not deliberate nor intentional is the greatest challenge you will face. You may have to answer the same questions over and over. It can become frustrating (How many times do I have to tell you, we just had lunch?), but learning how to successfully communicate with a person with dementia will help you deal with that challenge.

Here are some important tips for communicating with a person who has dementia:

Create a Positive Mood. Attitude and body language communicate your feelings and thoughts more strongly than words. Facial expressions, tone of voice and physical touch help to convey your message and feelings of affection.

Capture Their Attention. Limit distractions and noise (such as turning off the TV). Use nonverbal cues and touch to keep their attention. Get down to their level and maintain eye contact.

State a Clear Message. Use simple words in a reassuring tone. Refrain from raising your voice higher or louder. Repeat your message. Rephrase your question if not originally understood. Avoid pronouns and abbreviations.

Ask Simple, Answerable Questions. Ask one question at a time. Questions that only require a `Yes’ or `No’ answer work best. For questions that require choices, use visual prompts and cues.

Listen with Your Heart. Be patient. Again, use visual prompts or cues when the person you are caring for is struggling for an answer. Suggest words. Strive to listen for the meaning and feelings that underlie their words.

Respond with Affection and Reassurance. Never forget that the person with dementia can be equally frustrated with their inability to respond successfully. Your role (even when it is exhausting) is to avoid judgment. Remember often that the behaviors (and loss of intellect) are the result of their illness and are never intentional nor deliberate. Kindness and caring always trumps unrealistic expectations.

Maintain a Sense of Humor. Caring for a person with dementia is no “walk in the park.” It is a heavy burden, and best lightened with a sense of humor. Dementia seems to attack short term, recent memories and allows your loved one to recall long term, distant memories of youth, marriage, children, friends, parties. So, remember fondly “the good old days” with your loved one.

For additional resources, NHCarePath (www.nhcarepath.dhhs.nh.gov or call 866-634- 9412) is a good place to start. Caring for a person with dementia is not easy. We hope these tips are helpful to make life more manageable for yourself and person you are caring for during these challenging times.

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