Communication problems are one of the most common issues faced by people who suffer from dementia. They may have trouble following a conversation due to an inability to stay focused or memory problems. They may have difficulty answering questions due to a decline in reasoning skills and/or judgment. They may also have word retrieval issues, making them unable to find the right words to express themselves at times.
These issues often lead to anxiety and frustration for the person with dementia as they try to talk to the people around them, and in some cases, anger and even aggressive behavior can become a problem at these times. So what can you do to help your parent with dementia communicate with you more effectively? Here, we’ll go over some tips on how to talk to a parent with dementia.
Make eye contact, smile and speak clearly and calmly
Since focus can be a problem with dementia, it is important to speak face to face, making eye contact to be sure you have your parent’s attention. Speaking clearly and calmly can help ease or prevent anxiety or agitation, as can smiling often as you speak. However, while a soothing, natural tone while speaking can help, be sure you don't speak to your parent as if they were a child, which can cause irritation and frustration very quickly. Speak clearly, slowly and concisely – one adult to another.
Avoid distractions during conversations
When it comes to how to talk to a parent with dementia, choosing the right time and atmosphere is important. Choose a quiet time to sit down with your parent to reduce distractions, like too many people around or a TV blaring in the background, for instance. This ensures that your parent is able to focus all of their mental energy on the conversation at hand.
Use simple, straightforward sentences
When you are communicating with a specific purpose, rather than just passing the time, keep it short, sweet and to the point. This is especially helpful if you are trying to help your parent through a task or asking a question. Complex sentences or questions can lead to confusion and frustration, while short, simple ones are more likely to make the connection you need to promote understanding and cooperation.
Stick to one topic at a time
Poor focus and memory can make it difficult for your parent with dementia to keep up with conversations that cover several different subjects. When you talk to your parent, discuss one single issue at a time to reduce risk of confusion and the frustration that comes of it for both you and your parent.
Don’t ask open-ended questions
Rather than asking your parent what they would like for dinner, give them a choice between several options. This sort of strategy can make answering the question less confusing for dementia sufferers.
Give them time to process
When it comes to how to talk to a parent with dementia, patience is the key. Dementia can make comprehension a slower process. That means that it will often take your parent with dementia a little longer to truly understand what you are saying, which can lead to a lag time before they can respond. Allow your parent a couple of minutes to process what you are saying and find the words to respond.
It is important to keep in mind that dementia is a very challenging disease and a progressive one. It is also unpredictable, with most sufferers having good days and bad days, which will affect how well any communication strategy works from one day to the next.