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Effective Communication with a Loved One with Dementia: Dos and Don'ts

When someone you love has dementia, their behavior is likely to change, and sometimes conversations can become difficult. Knowing the dos and don'ts of communicating with someone with dementia can mean the difference between a successful interaction and an upsetting one.

Familiarize yourself with our dos and don'ts below, and remember that patience and understanding of out-of-character behavior are the most important considerations in your new relationship with your elderly parent.

Do...

  • Avoid Distraction
    Set the scene for a successful conversation by keeping distractions to a minimum for both you and your mom or dad. Switch off televisions or radios in the room, minimize the number of people in a conversation, and keep to one topic at a time. Simple, straightforward sentences are best, so leave as little room for confusion as possible.

  • Listen
    When your loved one is talking to you, be sure that you really are listening and are attentive to their needs. Knowing that you are, in fact, really listening is important - even if it means going along with a conversation that really doesn’t make sense. Responding appropriately to something your parent is upset about will let them know you care.

  • Use a Calm Voice and Warm Tone
    As someone finds it increasingly difficult to understand what is being said, the way it is being said becomes more important. Reassurance is key, especially if your loved one does not always recognize the people around them. Dementia, including Alzheimer’s, can be frightening and isolating at times, and often a friendly tone, warmth and compassion are the best cues you can use to let your parent know they are safe and looked after.

  • Give Mom or Dad Time to Reply
    Think about the amount of time you should give Mom or Dad to absorb what you have said and consider their answer, then double it. Don't rush them into a reply, or try to fill a silence if their responses don't seem forthcoming. Keep your focus on them, so your mom or dad knows you are ready to listen when they are ready to speak.

  • Use Non-Verbal Cues
    There are many ways you can let someone know that it's time to leave the house, have a meal, take medication, or convey other vital pieces of information. Remember that talking is just one way to get a message across and that non-verbal cues, such as putting on your coat in direct line of sight while you are saying 'it's time to go out now', will empower your loved one to know what is happening around them, even if the words are difficult to understand.

Don't...

  • Try to Correct Your Parent
    It's perhaps one of the most important don'ts of all: don't let your loved one lose face by correcting a detail they got wrong. Many people with dementia are aware of the fact that this happens, and can be very embarrassed or upset if their mistakes are pointed out. The best thing to do is to go along with whatever statement they have made, if saying it does no harm.

  • Have Arguments
    It can be one of the most difficult things to master, but learning not to argue with your loved one, no matter what the situation, is a golden rule of caring for someone with dementia. Being right is, after all, a pointless victory in this situation. It can be hard to throw out the need to reason, but it is essential in successfully navigating your daily conversations as dementia progresses.

  • Start a Conversation With “Do You Remember...?”
    This may seem obvious, but it can be very tempting to try and prompt your loved one into remembering details, whether it's something about your own family life (“do you remember your grandson, Charlie?”) or merely something that was said to them earlier that day (“do you remember I told you we have to visit the doctor today?”). It's more effective and less distressing to simply make the statement and not address the issue of memory. For example, say: “Here's Charlie, Mom, your grandson,” or “It's time to go to the doctor's office now”.

  • Remind Your Parent That a Loved One is Dead
    It can be distressing for you if your mom or dad starts to talk about their deceased spouse, relative or friend as if they were alive. It's really not necessary to remind them, however, that their partner or close friend is dead. In fact, it is like breaking the news to them for the first time over and again, which can be upsetting for you both. It's okay to suspend reality for a while, using a “fiblet” to go along with the reality that your mom or dad is living in. For example, if Mom questions where Dad is, even though he died several years ago, say: “Don’t worry, Dad will be back soon, he just ran out to get the groceries.”

Providing the Care Your Parent with Dementia Needs

Communication with a loved one who suffers from dementia can be challenging, but these dos and don’ts can help you have less stressful and upsetting discussions and interactions with your elderly parent.

Of course, behavioural changes and memory loss are just two concerns you may have regarding your elderly parent when their dementia symptoms start to get worse, and if you feel that Mom or Dad needs more help at home to ensure they are safe, hiring a Home Care company is a good option.

They can offer a full dementia care program that includes providing companionship, help with medication management, taking care of meal preparation and light housekeeping, helping with daily activities, and escorting your parent to appointments. A Home Care company can also encourage cognitively stimulating activities, so you can be assured that not only are your parent’s daily needs being met, and that they are safe in their own home. Plus, a Home Care company can help ensure that your parent is being given the care and attention they need to keep their quality of life high - for as long as possible.

To find out how Ezra Home Care can provide the assistance your parent needs when suffering from dementia, including Alzheimer’s, contact our compassionate and experienced team.

Founded in 2008, Ezra Home Care offers live-in home care, 24-hour care, and hourly senior care.
All our caregivers are state-certified and provide services like personal carehousekeepingcompanionship, help with medication, and transportation assistance. We've spent 15 years refining our caregiver selection process to ensure families' peace of mind. Reach out for details and quotes.

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or call us at 617-527-9000

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