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Dementia and communication: Listening


People with Alzheimer's or other memory loss conditions often have trouble expressing themselves, sometimes right from the start of the disease. This can easily lead to confusion and frustration for both of you. Your willingness to exercise patience is key to successful communication: Patience and calm, over and over and over again. This is hard! AND it's essential to keeping a positive relationship.

There are some practical tips, too. Even in the early stages, word finding can be difficult, so they may describe an object rather than name it. They may forget what they just said and say it again. They are easily distracted. You can help by using the following strategies:

  • Avoid groups. One-on-one conversations work best.

  • Limit distractions. Turn off the TV or radio. Do one thing at a time; for example, converse OR put on shoes.

  • Allow time. Rushing creates stress, which makes it harder—for us all!—to find the right words or keep thoughts organized.

  • Offer encouragement. Don't interrupt or try to finish their sentences. Smile and make eye contact. Project the reassurance that they can take all the time they need to say what they want to say.

As dementia progresses, you may need to redefine what a conversation is with your loved one. It may be less of an exchange of ideas and more an opportunity for your relative to engage with you. Your focus is on making the exchange a pleasant one.

  • Avoid correcting them. It's okay if the details aren't right or their logic is "off." When inaccuracies are pointed out, they may misinterpret your corrections as dislike or disrespect.

  • Learn to read their tone and body language. Search for the emotion or meaning behind their words. For example, repeated questions often indicate anxiety. A sudden demand to leave a gathering can be a sign of confusion or overwhelm.

Is communication a problem?

We at Caring With Grace recognize that it's sometimes difficult to converse with a relative who has dementia. As the north Texas experts in family caregiving, we can help you listen beyond the words and support your loved one to express themself as best they can. Give us a call at (214) 789-6402.

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