Communicating with Dementia Sufferers

August 12, 2013
dementia - good communication with caregiver and patient

Communicating with a person with dementia is very important.


Although there are many kinds of miscommunications that can occur between a caregiver and a dementia sufferer, some of the most common are related to misperceptions held by the dementia sufferer. How can you maintain clear communication with your loved one who suffers from dementia? The tips below may help.

Remember: things have changed for you, but not for the one with dementia

If you are a caregiver for a person with Alzheimer’s, Lewy body disease, or another disorder that affects the memory, you’ve undoubtedly found yourself in a conversation in which your loved one’s context of conversation does not match that of the real world. Perhaps Mother still thinks that your younger sister who moved out twenty years ago should be home from high school by now or Dad insists that he has a golf date with that buddy who passed away last fall.

In such a case, is it better to correct or to humor? That really depends on how deeply rooted is the dementia patient’s false belief. If Mother is only having a tiny glitch, gently reminding her that your sister graduated long ago and now lives in another state is fine; however, if Mother’s sense of reality has changed in a more permanent manner, it’s better to go along with her. Try something like “She’s staying with some friends for a few days.”

Knowing whether to correct or not can be difficult, but it’s important. If your loved one is firm in his or her delusion, trying to get him or her to see reality may only cause confusion and upset.

Assist, don’t challenge

Instead of introducing a visitor by saying “Look who’s here,” which might cause anxiety for your loved one as he or she tries to put a name to a face, try something like “Mom, Lucille from down the block is here to share some of the roses from her garden with you.” That gives your mother the name of the visitor, lets her know that the visitor is a neighbor, and even relieves her of trying to recall the name of the flowers that she is about to see.

Respect the patient’s efforts

As hard as understanding what a person with dementia is saying might be at times, it’s important to remember that he or she is trying very hard. Make an effort to be patient. If you can’t understand what is being said, ask the patient to repeat it or ask, “I’m sorry, did you say ‘bread’ or ‘bed?'”

Actions speak louder than words

Your body language may give a different message than your words, and people with dementia tend to understand body language more readily than they do verbal language. Do what you can to keep your body as relaxed and comfortable as possible. If you feel your body tensing, take a few deep breaths and try to let yourself relax.

Caregivers for people with dementia have many challenges, including those involving communication. Being able to give your loved one the kinds of responses he or she needs will help to keep the atmosphere more balanced and stable.

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Writer, Craig Butler

Craig Butler has been writing on a wide range of topics for more than fifteen years. As the National Communications Director for the Cooley's Anemia Foundation, Craig regularly writes on a range of health and medical topics. Among the many projects he has written for the Foundation is the Cooley's Anemia Storybook, a collection of original short stories for children with the blood disorder Cooley's Anemia. His freelance work has ranged from reviewing moves and CDs to creating entertainment-related stories about baldness, to creating text for comic strips. Craig looks forward to having a dialogue with you about senior care and issues of concern.

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