Communicating with people who have dementia

posted May 15, 2017, 8:52 AM by Mary Peck

By Gail Wilcox, Ombudsman Supervisor, SWODA Area Agency on Aging

Alzheimer’s disease and dementia gradually diminish a person’s ability to communicate. Communication with a person with dementia Alzheimer’s requires patience, understanding and good listening skills. Additionally, communication skills must change as the disease progresses. Understanding the best practices of communicating helps both caregiver and patient understand each other better.

As the disease progresses, a person with dementia Alzheimer’s will gradually decline making communication difficult. The challenges of a dementia Alzheimer’s individual can lead to frustration. It is helpful to understand what changes may occur in order to be prepared and make adjustments. Knowing how to respond within the changes improves communication and makes it more effective.

Communication varies with each individual as the disease affects each person differently. In the early stage of the disease, individuals may still participate in meaningful conversation and even engage in social activities. However, they may repeat stories, feel overwhelmed by excessive stimulation or have difficulty finding the right word.

The middle stage of dementia Alzheimer’s is typically the longest and can last for many years. Best practices of communication in the middle stage include allowing time for responses so the individual may think, engaging in one-on-one conversations in a quite space, being patient and supportive, maintaining eye contact, avoiding criticizing or correcting, avoid arguing, and speaking slowly and clearly.

Late stages of dementia Alzheimer’s may cause the individual to rely on nonverbal communication, such as facial expressions or vocal sounds. Around–the-clock care is usually required at this stage. Always treat the individual with dignity and respect, avoid talking down to the individual, always approach the individual from the front, identify yourself, look for feelings behind the words or sounds, use touch, sights, sounds, smells and taste as a form of communication. Always remember your presence and friendship are most important to the person.

No matter of the disease’s progress, each individual must be afforded the opportunity for visitors, caring compassionate caregivers and laughter.

The SWODA Ombudsman Program serves nursing homes in Beckham, Custer, Greer, Harmon, Jackson, Kiowa, Roger Mills and Washita Counties. For more information about the Ombudsman Program or to become a volunteer in your area, contact Gail Wilcox at (580) 562-4882.