Dementia is a mental condition that deteriorates parts of the brain that affect communication, personality, and behavior. If you have a loved one suffering from dementia, it is important to stay connected with this person and let them know that you are with them during this difficult time. Keeping up a relationship despite the dramatic changes that accompany the progression of dementia is vital for a healthy relationship between you and your loved one. The following are some tips for keeping up communication with a senior who has dementia:
- Speak clearly and simply. As dementia progresses, it may become more difficult for your loved one to follow your speech or questions. If you keep your speech clear, concise and choose straightforward words, your loved one will be able to understand more easily. This will minimize embarrassment on their part for not being able to follow you, and the two of you can have a good conversation.
- Respect your loved one. Avoid baby talk and addressing your loved one as a child. This can be very frustrating to a person suffering from dementia because it is important for that person to feel that they are still in control as an adult. Also, avoid talking about your loved one as though they aren’t there. This will limit your loved one’s frustration and keep your relationship strong.
- Maintain eye contact. This lets your loved one know that you are present in the moment and listening to what they have to say, no matter how long it takes them to say it. This pairs well with the next tip:
- Avoid distractions. Talk to your loved one without the TV and radio on in the background, and without your cell phone ringing. Let them know that you are there for them completely at that moment and that what they have to say is important to you.
- Don’t interrupt and don’t argue. Your loved one may take longer than you’re used to in responding to a question or expressing themselves, or they may make up new words to indicate something they want depending on how far advanced their dementia is. Don’t correct or argue with your loved one—there is no need to stir up feelings of resentment or frustration.
- Stay calm. No matter how frustrated you may become, it is important to keep your voice gentle. It is easy for your loved one to pick up your nonverbal cues and to withdraw. This may cause your loved one to feel as though they are a burden to their family. Remain kind and calm in your loved one’s presence.
It is most important to remember to not take your loved one’s behavior personally. They are not acting this way as a personal affront to you; it is just how the disease progresses. It can be frustrating for you to watch your loved one suffer, but remember how frustrating it must be for them to not be able to communicate as they used to do.