How to Talk to a Parent with Dementia
Just as our bodies go through changes as we age, so does our mind. For some, this means developing dementia — a group of brain disorders that lead to a decline in memory and thinking skills. If you have a parent with dementia, it’s important to learn how to communicate with them effectively. Here are some tips for making your conversations meaningful.
Understand the Different Stages of Dementia
The first thing to understand is that dementia is a progressive disease, which means it will get worse over time. There are three main stages of dementia: mild, moderate, and severe. Each stage comes with its own set of challenges in terms of communication.
In the early stages of dementia, your loved one may still be able to have long, meaningful conversations. However, as the disease progresses, they may start to have difficulty following along with complex topics - you may need to keep your conversations short and simple. They may also start to repeat themselves or have trouble finding the right words. In the later stages of dementia, your loved one may become mostly nonverbal.
Tips for Communicating
Here are some general tips for how to talk to someone with dementia:
Be patient and tolerant
Dementia can be frustrating, both for the person with the disease and their caregivers. It’s important to be patient and understand that your loved one is not deliberately trying to be frustrating.
Make sure to eliminate any distractions, such as noise or movement, that may make it difficult for your loved one to concentrate.
Speak slowly and clearly
When you’re speaking, be sure to enunciate your words and speak at a slow, steady pace. This will give your loved one time to process what you’re saying.
Keep your questions simple
Ask one question at a time, and make sure it’s a question that can be answered with a yes or no. This will make it easier for your loved one to understand and respond.
Repeat and rephrase
If your loved one doesn’t seem to understand what you’re saying, try repeating yourself or rephrasing the question.
Use affirmative statements
Make sure to use affirmative statements, such as “Yes, that’s right,” or “I understand,” to let your loved one know that you’re following along.
In the later stages of dementia, your loved one may become mostly nonverbal. However, you can still communicate effectively through nonverbal cues, such as facial expressions and body language.
Be aware of your own body language
Your own body language can say a lot about how you’re feeling. Be aware of your own facial expressions and body language, and try to use cues that convey understanding, such as a gentle touch or nod.
Listen more than you talk
It’s important to spend time just listening to your loved one. Even if they’re not saying much, they may still be trying to communicate through their tone of voice or body language.
Try to stay positive
Dementia can be a difficult disease to cope with, but it’s important to try to stay positive. This will help create a more positive environment for your loved one and may make communication easier.
Help them stay comfortable and safe in their home
Enabling your loved ones to stay in their own home for as long as possible can help them feel more comfortable and safe. There are a number of ways to do this, such as installing handrails in the bathroom or getting a medical alert system.
Consider hiring outside help
If you’re finding it difficult to care for your loved one on your own, you may want to consider hiring outside help or moving them to an assisted living facility that provides a certain level of freedom and safeguards. If you choose to move your loved one to an assisted living facility, it is important to choose one that provides a wandering management system to ensure the safety of your family member. Especially in the early days before they become familiar with their new surroundings, they can become easily confused which can lead to wandering.
Join a support group
Joining a support group for caregivers of people with dementia can be a great way to get advice and tips from others who are dealing with similar issues. It can also be a good way to find emotional support.
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