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How To Talk To Someone With Dementia

20 Sep 2021

A dementia diagnosis can be devastating. However, you shouldn’t think it’s the end of your relationship with your loved one, nor should you shy away from your existing relationship. Indeed, your loved one will be relying on you to be a source of normalcy through this difficult period. There will be changes, but it is possible to maintain a healthy relationship and talk to someone with dementia. 

The first step in this process is to understand the importance of empathy in personal care. Yes, it can be frustrating and heart breaking to see another human being struggle to remember and to regress to a stage resembling childhood. However, it’s important to recognise that, in the words of Terry Pratchett, ‘coming back to where you started is not the same thing as having never gone in the first place.’ The person you’re talking to is still your friend, your family member, another person, and they are the ones suffering from this disease. The importance of your support cannot be overstated, and you should be ready to offer that support. According to the NHS, social interaction and support is one of the most important tools that your loved one has in their personal care plan in their fight against dementia

With this in mind, we’ve assembled this short guide to help you to communicate with people experiencing dementia and Alzheimer’s. 

Preparing For The Conversation

The first step in this process is realizing that you’ve got to be very patient with your loved one. While it is very possible to maintain your relationship with someone experiencing dementia, it is not easy. And the only way it will be easier is through your patience and empathy.

Knowing that someone you care about is experiencing dementia can be tough, and it’s natural to feel as though there’s nothing you can do. However, there are techniques that have shown to work in mitigating dementia symptoms and are useful as part of a personal care plan. 

The easiest of these techniques to set up is to make sure that the person you’re caring for has access to a lot of photographs. These should be photographs of people from their life — people close to them. These photographs should be from a wide age range, and they should be located in a place that is easy for your loved one to find. Ideally, they will have access to them all the time. 

You can also use objects – a wedding ring, an ornament, a piece of jewellery — in much the same way. Other methods you could use to help your loved one to remember you include wearing clothes and aftershave that they would be familiar with. The idea behind this is that it helps to reinforce your loved one’s memory and helps to keep them in the here and now. It’s a subtle, non-confrontational form of reassurance that has proven to help people experiencing dementia to retain memories for longer. For more about these techniques, click here to visit Dementia UK

(Re)Introduce yourself 

While you may have prepared, it’s important to recognise that sometimes your loved one will just have a bad day. They won’t know who you are, even if you’ve known them for your entire life. 

This can be upsetting for you, but it’s important not to dwell on it. You’re there to provide comfort and  personal care, after all. If the person you’re talking to doesn’t know who you are, introduce yourself. If there are pictures of you nearby, point yourself out to the person you’re speaking to. This may help to jog their memory. However, it’s possible that they won’t remember you at all, and may become distressed if you try to assert your identity. If that is the case, it may be necessary to accept your loved one’s assumption on who you are, as it will cause them less distress in the short term. 

The Conversation

Moving forward, it’s important to keep the other person in mind throughout the conversation — as we stated at the start of this article, empathy and patience are your greatest tools in providing adequate personal care. You’ll want to keep the conversation light in terms of urgency and topic, as it’s important that your loved one feel as stress free as possible. 

It’s a good idea to talk about the past. If your loved one has photographs around them, it could be a good idea to ask your loved one about them — ask your loved one where they were taken? Who’s in them? These questions can stimulate the mind and help your loved one to remember.

Repetition

You may find that your loved one is prone to repetitions in their speech or actions. This is a common symptom of dementia related to memory loss. According to the Social Care Institute For Excellence, the reasons behind this repetition include: 

  • The person’s short-term memory is impaired and they have no recollection of having already said or asked something. 
  • The person’s repetitive questions may suggest both a need for information and an emotional need. Repeated stories often represent highly significant memories. 
  • The person may repeat themselves because they want to communicate and cannot find anything else to say. 
  • The person might have become ‘stuck’ on a particular word, phrase or action. 
  • The person might be bored and under-occupied.

When your loved one is repeating themselves, the important thing is to keep calm and to be receptive to their feelings. If your loved one is asking you questions, answer them — regardless of how many times they repeat the question. As previously mentioned, this kind of behaviour is linked to a failing memory and your loved one may need to be reminded of something you’ve said. 

Shared Interests 

One useful tip to help facilitate communication is to find a shared passion with your loved one. This could be a tv show that your family member likes, or it could be music that you both like. Finding this mutual passion will help you to find an emotional safe place, which you both can return to if necessary. It will also help you to find a way of comforting your loved one during those times when they are feeling anxious or are in distress.

Another tip is to learn how to communicate without words. While your loved one may forget who you are, body language is universal, and your loved one will recognise an attempt to comfort them. 

Contact Hands on Care Today For Help With Dementia

For more information on living with dementia, personal care, or to see how we can help you or your loved one, contact us today. Based in Staffordshire, Hands on Care has over 10 years experience delivering high quality care for people from a wide variety of age ranges and backgrounds.

Hands on Care Homecare Services Limited
United House,
Tern Hill,
Market Drayton,
Shropshire,
TF9 3PX,
01952 743490
01952 743490