Communication with a loved one who has memory loss is a bit different than communicating with someone who doesn’t. Small changes in speech patterns and wording will make your messages more clear to your loved one and will make conversations much easier for both to participate.
- Stay calm. Don’t sound frantic or stressed because this could cause agitation for someone with dementia.
- Slow down. Change the pace of your speech and pause between sentences. This gives your loved one time to hear and process what you said and then respond. The spaces in between might feel awkward at first, but know that your loved one needs a little extra time to have a conversation.
- Humor. Finding the humor in things and laughing with your loved one. Not only does this lighten the mood, it strengthens the bond between you and your loved one.
- Include. When you’re in a group having a conversation, make sure to include your loved one. This prevents feelings of isolation and losing a sense of self for people with memory loss and an opportunity to communicate with more people.
- Avoid questions, decisions, and corrections. Asking questions that people with memory loss can’t answer will aggravate and upset them. Simple questions with “yes” or “no” are better for communicating with those who have memory loss. Keep choices limited. Your loved one could get overwhelmed if they are given too many options. People with memory loss can mix up what is true and what’s not true. If they say something that you know is false, don’t correct them. It can be embarrassing to be corrected in the first place and the information itself might be painful. If they talk about a relative who has passed away as if they were still alive, don’t immediately correct them. Instead, try redirecting the conversation to move away from that topic.
- Have a respectful tone. Your loved one deserves dignity and respect. Not acknowledging their presence or speaking to them like they’re children is demeaning and diminishes their sense of self. While you might have to speak with a bit more patience due to their memory loss, you’re still speaking to an adult.
- Rewording. If your loved one doesn’t understand what you’re trying to say, don’t repeat the same sentence. Find a way to say it differently. Rephrase your sentences by breaking it down into smaller, simple sentences. In some cases, writing things down or using objects as visual aid can help your loved one understand what you’re trying to communicate.
- Listening. In addition to making changes to how you speak, it’s just as important to be aware of how you listen and respond.
- Therapeutic lying. When dealing with memory loss, honesty isn’t always the best policy. If they are certain about something that isn’t real, like having a job or a loved one, it’s okay to play along. Arguing with a person who has memory loss will get you nowhere and listening to the person’s stories can give insight into their feelings. If they have a story about a loved one and is telling happy stories, then play along and let them be happy.
- Reminders won’t work. Loved ones with memory loss won’t remember if you ask them to do or not do something in the future. Instead of talking about the change, do what you can to make the change.
- Telling is better than asking. Instead of asking open-ended questions like, “What do you want to do today?”, tell your loved one when it’s time to do things. “We’re going to pick up some groceries,” or, “It’s time to eat now,” are examples of telling. This communication technique takes away the pressure of comprehending and responding. If you say it’s time to go somewhere, that will help them want to go along. The same also applies to telling them it’s time to eat.
- Lucid Moments. Sometimes, a person with memory loss will have moments of lucidity. They are able to respond coherently and it seems like they don’t suffer from memory loss at all. It’s common to feel like maybe your loved one doesn’t have dementia or their forgetfulness was just a senior moment. It’s normal to feel like this during lucid moments but know that these happen with those who have dementia. The best you can do is enjoy these moments as much as possible.
These tips and changes will improve communication between you and your loved one. As a result, your conversations will be more effective and meaningful because you can get you message across.
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