Over nine million Americans presently live with dementia, a number projected to rise sharply over the next decade. More often seen in those aged 65+, dementia is a real game changer for every family in Cape Coral it touches. If an aging loved one in your life has dementia, you’re all too familiar with the behavioral changes and communication barriers that it can cause. As an informal caregiver, providing your loved one with the care they need starts with learning more about those behaviors and how to bridge dementia’s “communication gap.”
What is Dementia?
Dementia describes a group of symptoms that affect memory, social skills, and cognitive abilities in ways that interfere with a person’s daily activities. Dementia isn’t one specific disease per se, but several different diseases can cause it. For example, Alzheimer’s disease is the most common cause of progressive dementia in aging adults. And even though memory loss is typically caused by dementia, memory loss itself may have different causes.
Dementia Affects Communication in These Ways
As it progresses, dementia gradually diminishes a person’s ability to communicate. At first, it may be hard for a loved one with dementia to remember words or appointments.
While speaking to them, you may start to notice these communication patterns:
- Describing an object rather than naming it
- Having trouble finding the right word
- Repeating words, stories, or questions
- Speaking less often
- Substituting words
- Losing their train of thought
- Reverting to a first language (i.e., Spanish over English)
- Blending unrelated ideas or phrases
Communicating with Someone Who Has Dementia
Communication with a loved one with dementia requires patience, understanding, and good listening skills. Using these 10 strategies can help you get through to them when nothing else seems to work:
Set the right mood
Body language and attitude often project your feelings stronger than words. Send a positive message by speaking to your loved one pleasantly and respectfully. Use facial expressions, tone of voice, and physical touch when appropriate to help convey your message and show them how much you care.
Limit noise and distractions by turning off the TV or radio, closing the curtains, or shutting windows and doors. Before speaking, be sure you have your loved one’s attention. If they are seated, get down to their level and maintain eye contact. Address them by name, identify yourself by name and relation, and use nonverbal cues and touch to help keep your loved one focused.
In a reassuring voice, speak slowly and distinctly while using simple words and sentences. Don’t raise your voice higher or lower. Instead, keep the identical reassuring tone. If your loved one fails to understand the first time, repeat your message or question using consistent wording. If they still don’t understand, wait a few minutes, and rephrase the question or statement.
Ask simple questions
While asking one question at a time, stick to those that can be answered with a “yes” or “no.” Avoid asking open-ended questions or giving your loved one too many choices. For instance, say something like, “Would you like to go to the park today?” instead of “What would you like to do today?”
Read their body language
Be patient when waiting for your loved one to respond. Watch for nonverbal cues and body language and respond accordingly. Try to listen for the meaning and feelings that underlie their words.
Break down activities into steps
Breaking down activities into smaller steps will make tasks more manageable. For instance, encourage your loved one to do what they can, gently remind them of steps they tend to forget and assist them with tasks they can no longer do themselves. Using visual cues, such as showing them with your hand where to put away the clean dishes, can be helpful.
Redirect the conversation when necessary
When your loved one gets upset, change the subject or environment. However, before doing so it is essential to connect with them on a feeling level. For instance, ask them for help or suggest doing a fun activity after saying, “I see that you are feeling bad. I’m sorry that you are upset. Let’s go get some ice cream.”
Respond with reassurance
Individuals with dementia often feel anxious, confused, and unsure of themselves. Sometimes their mind confuses them by recalling events that never actually occurred. Do not try to convince your loved one they are wrong if that happens. Instead, focus on the feelings they are demonstrating (which are real) and respond with verbal and nonverbal expressions of love, comfort, and reassurance.
Take a walk down memory lane
Reminiscing is often a soothing and affirming activity for someone with dementia. Although many dementia patients can’t remember what happened an hour ago, they can recall past events that occurred 50+ years earlier. Avoid asking questions that rely on short-term memory, such as what the person had for breakfast. Instead, ask general questions about your loved one’s distant past, as they will be more likely to retain this information.
Maintain your sense of humor
And finally, use humor whenever possible to lighten the mood without hurting your loved one’s feelings. Individuals with dementia often retain their social skills and are usually open to laughing under the right circumstances. Whatever you do as their caregiver, avoid taking things they say or do personally.
Bonus Tip: Involve a Dementia Communication Expert
When you are still having trouble communicating with your loved one, a licensed speech therapist may be able to help. Speech therapy is a proven way for patients to maintain a level of independence for longer.
Notably if your loved one also needs assistance performing activities of daily living (ADLs), another option is to hire a professional in-home caregiver. Most reputable home care providers employ caregivers who specialize in working with clients that have dementia and Alzheimer’s.
Dementia Prevention Tips for Seniors and Caregivers
Healthy living habits adopted at any age can help prevent or manage risk factors associated with dementia. Here are some impactful places for your senior to start:
Numerous studies suggest that an active lifestyle that includes social activities may reduce the likelihood of developing dementia or Alzheimer’s.
Exercise the brain too
Studies have shown that older adults who remain intellectually active are less likely to develop cognitive issues. Great brain-stimulating activities for seniors include taking classes, learning a new language or musical instrument, playing board games, and reading books.
Follow a Mediterranean diet
While cutting back on red meat, fill your senior’s plate with lots of fruits and veggies, poultry, fish, whole grains, and olive oil. A little wine is also okay once it’s been approved by their doctor.
Protect their head
Another risk factor for Alzheimer’s is traumatic brain injury (TBI), notably resulting from repeated concussions. Minimize your loved one’s risk of TBI by convincing them to wear a seatbelt while riding in a motor vehicle or participating in activities such as kayaking, bicycling, riding a horse, contact sports, etc.
In-Home Senior Dementia Care for Families in Cape Coral
When you or your loved one need assistance, contact Home Instead in Cape Coral. While proudly serving families in Cape Coral, North Fort Myers, and Pine Island, we are a fully licensed and insured home care provider with highly trained professionals who are experts at delivering the nurturing our clients need. As an extended family in your senior’s home, our compassionate caregivers can perform duties like light housekeeping, personal care, dementia care, companionship care, medication reminders, and even live-in and 24-hour care.
Our agency’s focus is maintaining your loved one’s quality of life, as well as their dignity, self-esteem, and independence. For your added convenience, all our in-home services can be individually personalized into an affordable package when and where you need them! Please visit us here now to learn more about us or schedule a FREE initial consultation for a senior in our service area.