It can be challenging to communicate effectively when providing dementia care because dementia is all about communication problems. A person who has dementia suffers from a range of symptoms that may include memory issues, clarity in thinking and expression, mood swings, and personality changes. This is in addition to the emotional aspect of someone in the caregiving capacity for such a patient, often a family member.
Not being able to communicate effectively can be very frustrating. It’s harder to get things accomplished, and it brings about a lot of stress. Learning effective communication can at the very least decrease the stress and also hopefully achieve a greater ability to get things done. It can also help maintain or restore the relationship between the provider of dementia care and the patient.
Tips for communicating with a patient who has dementia
- Be nice. It’s really that simple. All people respond better when they are spoken to with respect and are taken seriously. Dementia patients are often confused and know they are having trouble cognitively, and speaking to them nicely and softly can help them keep it together. It can also help you keep it together, as you train yourself to speak in this way. If you start with “It’s so nice to see you!” rather than “Let’s get into the car,” you’re giving her the chance to start positively as well.
- Be prepared. It’s no secret that people who have dementia may pose challenges in communication. Learn about the disease and how it affects the patient’s brain. This will help you understand the challenges they face and operate accordingly. Readings articles such as this one can help you acquire tools for success. Education brings results.
- Respond calmly. Train yourself to not get upset about the patient’s behavior, and your being able to stay calm will help him to calm down and create more effective communication. Learn about tools that help with anger management and de-stressing in the moment to apply here.
- Break down activities into steps. You may need to explain things to the patient or convince them to do certain things. Activities seemingly as simple as getting into a car, taking a shower, or eating dinner might be too complex for the patient, so you’ll need to break it down into 1. Stand up. 2. Put on your coat. 3. Walk to the door. 4. Open the door. 5. Walk to the car. 6. Step into the car. 7. Put on your seatbelt. In this example, what’s often seen a quick, one-step activity has been broken down into seven steps. Going through them one at a time can help the patient process them and accommodate you much more quickly, even though it may seem like a painstaking process.
- Be clear and to the point. The patient may have trouble processing what you’re saying, so if it’s unclear, you’ll have trouble getting it done and you’ll also the building up to a stressful situation when the patient can’t comply. For example, instead of saying, “We need to go to the doctor, please get ready,” you might want to instead say “Please put on your coat. We have to see the cardiologist on First Street at 9 o’clock, and we need to leave now to get there on time.”
At the Alameda Center for Rehabilitation on Perth Amboy, New Jersey, we provide dementia care with warmth and caring, so patients feel heard and confident in our care.