Before we get into how to communicate with seniors that have dementia, we need to understand what dementia is and where it comes from. Many people mistake it for a specific disease, when it’s actually a group of conditions characterized by the deterioration of brain function. It affects the thinking and social parts of the brain that results in interferences with their daily functioning.
People with dementia may experience:
- Mental decline, disorientation, inability to speak or understand language or mental confusion
- Irritability, personality changes, restlessness, lack of restraint or wandering and getting lost
- Anxiety, loneliness, mood swings or nervousness
- Depression, hallucination or paranoia
- Inability to combine muscle movements or unsteady walking
- Memory loss, falling, jumbled speech or sleep disorder
One of the most common causes for dementia is Alzheimer’s disease. In Alzheimer’s, abnormal proteins surround brain cells and damage their internal structure. In time, chemical connections between brain cells are lost and cells begin to die, resulting in the deterioration of overall brain function.
Some other causes for dementia may include:
- Vascular cognitive impairment
- Dementia with Lewy bodies
- Frontotemporal dementia
- Parkinson’s disease
- Huntington’s disease
- Traumatic brain injury
So, now that we have a basic understanding of what dementia actually is, we can start looking at how to deal with our loved ones who are struggling with it.
Interact in a Calm and Friendly Manner
The most important thing to remember when interacting with them is to stay calm and patient and to keep your voice pleasant, you otherwise risk triggering them. Give them gentle touches and lots of encouragement, especially when they’re struggling to remember something or to articulate themselves.
Maintain Eye Contact
Maintaining eye contact with someone that suffers from dementia is very important. You want to keep their attention on you. Try to minimize surrounding distractions when you’re interacting – this will make it easier for them to focus on you and to keep the conversation going.
Be Clear with Your Statements
For the senior to be able to understand you clearly, it’s best to use simple words and to keep your sentences straightforward. If you’re a fast talker, make an effort to speak slower and try not to raise your voice higher as it can also make them feel agitated. Most seniors suffering from dementia will also have trouble hearing, so try to speak louder than you usually would (just don’t shout at them).
Most of the time they will have trouble articulating themselves, or they will speak incoherently. You need to be patient and listen to them – give them time to say what they’re trying to say. Also, above listening to what they say verbally, observe their body language and try to notice if something is making them feel uncomfortable or scared.
Stick to a Routine
It’s been proven that our habits operate on their own memory structure. Which means that those memories stick around long after a person suffers loss of their recent memories. Setting up a routine and following it religiously will help the senior with dementia to know what to do on a daily basis. Try to include meaningful activities in their routine for as long as possible. This way they have a sense of independence and purpose in life.
Dealing with seniors suffering from dementia can be tough and time consuming. If you feel like you aren’t able to give your senior the time and attention they need, then check out the dementia care program we offer.