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How to Communicate With Someone Suffering From Dementia

A senior couple enjoys a special moment together.

Dementia is a general term that describes a decline in mental ability.  The impairment to your loved one’s brain affects their memory, the way they hear, process and respond to conversations and how they communicate their thoughts and emotions with others. Over time a person’s ability to communicate gradually diminishes which poses new obstacles and often frustrations – both for the person with dementia and their family, friends, and caregivers. 

For the person with dementia, losing the ability to communicate is an isolating, frustrating experience that makes it difficult to express basic wants and needs. Family members, on the other hand, feel saddened by a perceived loss of connection as they watch their loved one become a shadow of their former selves. 

The good news is that the person you have known for much of your life is still inside and yearns to connect. While verbal communication can be challenging, there are other effective ways to interact and connect with your loved one. In this post we’ll share several, non-verbal communication techniques to that can make caregiving easier and improve quality of life for both you and your loved one. 

5 Nonverbal Dementia Communication Techniques

According to the Alzheimer’s Association, people in the later stages of dementia often begin to rely on nonverbal communication methods, including gestures, facial expressions, vocalizations and more to maneuver through life. If someone you care about is finding it difficult to communicate as a result of advanced dementia, these simple tips could help you adapt the way you communicate to match their change in abilities. 

  • Pointing and Gesturing: In our everyday conversations, we use gestures without even thinking about it – waving, pointing and using our hands to emphasize excitement or frustration. When you find it difficult to understand what your loved one is trying to tell you, see if pointing or gesturing is more effective.  Use touch, sights, sounds, smells and tastes as additional ways to communicate with your loved one.
  • Listen for the Emotion Behind the Words: You’ve heard the expression: it’s not what you say; it’s how you say it. This is especially applicable when talking to a person with dementia. If you’re having trouble understanding the precise meaning of what your loved one is trying to say, listen instead for clues in their tone of voice. Does your loved one sound happy, angry, or sad? This may tell you more about their current state than the actual words they are speaking. Your own tone of voice is also important to consider. If you sound frustrated or stressed, your loved one will likely be able to pick up on this which could become a barrier to communication.
  • Body Language: You might be surprised to discover just how much your body language can communicate all by itself. Often the nonverbal messages we send with our body language comes through more clearly than the words we speak.  Both you and your loved one can learn to read how the other is feeling simply by observing things like posture, facial expressions, and movements. Maintain eye contact and smile throughout the conversation. Keep your face at or below their eye level and never stand over them as it can feel intimidating.
  • Physical Contact: Sometimes a touch of the hand, a gentle pat on the back, or a warm embrace can speak volumes. Without uttering a syllable, your loved one will be able to feel your reassurance and affection. However, not everyone responds to touch in the same way, so use your best judgement and be aware of their response as you try this dementia communication technique with your loved one.
  • Communicate with Dignity and Respect: No matter how you are able to communicate with your loved one, remember to always do so respectfully. Be mindful of talking down to the them, over their head or even speaking as if they aren’t there at all. Patience is the key here, if you start to feel frustrated, excuse yourself and take a breather to regain perspective. 

Learn More About Silver Maples

At Silver Maples we’re passionate about creating and supporting a positive aging experience that fits your personal lifestyle. We want to be the people you turn to when changes occur in your life; a resource to you and your family. We offer beautiful independent living and licensed assisted living accommodations perfect for singles and couples alike. We invite you to come for a visit; tour our grounds, see our various living accommodations, and chat with people who call Silver Maples home – we promise you won’t regret it!

Not quite ready for a visit? Get to know us from afar by exploring our website. You’ll find enlightening personal stories and testimonials from residents, their families, and our staff, video tours and so much more. You can also request more information to receive our brochure packet full of great information. Or, feel free to connect with us through social media to get a peek at daily life at Silver Maples. Contact us when you’re ready to learn more. We’re eager to discuss options and help you enjoy a lifestyle and support system you and your family will love.

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