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Top tips for communicating with a loved one who has dementia

It can be a difficult time when your loved one has dementia. They may no longer be able to communicate their needs and thoughts in the same ways that they used to. Simultaneously, they might not be able to understand or process what you are trying to communicate to them. Therefore, in order to communicate more effectively and boost their quality of life, it is essential to adapt the ways that you communicate with them so that you can understand each other more easily.

Research has shown that many family carers struggle to communicate with their loved one with dementia. Sometimes carers feel like they are doing or saying the wrong thing when attempting to communicate. In this guide, you will find advice on some of the best ways to keep open channels of communication to ensure that both your loved one and your family members are as safe and happy as possible.

Optimise your time and space

Before you try and communicate with your loved one, ensure that you are in the right setting that is free of any distractions, calm, and quiet. Trying to communicate in a busy environment or where they cannot hear you will not be likely to be successful. Additionally, ensure that you are not rushed or on a deadline when you are communicating with them. Having sufficient time to talk to them without rushing can keep them calm and relaxed. There may also be specific times during the day when they are more alert and communication is easier, so this might be the best time to communicate.

Plan your conversations

Planning what you are going to talk about in advance is a good way to ensure that you can connect with them. Reflect on how you might feel in their position and what might help you if you were finding it difficult to communicate. You can talk about topics that you have previously discussed with them in the past and talk about things that are familiar to them and will make them feel at ease.

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Actively listen and look for cues

When someone with dementia is trying to communicate with you, they may not be clear in what they are saying. By ensuring that you actively listen to their words, you may be able to understand the gist of what they are saying. Ask for clarification if you do not understand or ask them to rephrase it. Additionally, keep an eye out for non-verbal cues. For example, if they are hungry or thirsty, this might be shown in their body language. It is important not to interrupt them when they are talking because this can break their thought patterns and slow or stop their communication.

Communicate in a variety of ways

While language is often the primary way that we are used to communicating with others, if you are communicating with a loved one with dementia, you may also need to employ other manners of communication, such as non-verbal signs. For example, it might help to use gestures or pictures to guide them as to what you want to say to them. Encourage them to do the same thing if they are struggling to use their words. Stay as close to them as you can so that they can see your face fully and read your expressions.

Be clear, calm, and patient

It can be frustrating at times when you are trying to communicate or understand what your loved one is saying and finding it difficult. However, patience, calmness, and clarity are the keys to effectively conveying messages. Remember that the struggle is two-way and your loved one is equally frustrated at not being able to communicate their needs and thoughts to you. Often, you may need to repeat what you have said or listen to them many times before you understand what they want to say. Keep your body language relaxed as this will avoid alarming them or startling them and try not to raise your voice or talk in a sharp tone.

Keep conversations short and regular

When your loved one has dementia, processing large volumes of information or trying to communicate their needs can become very tiring for them. Therefore, shorter conversations may be more effective. At the same time, ensure that you talk to them regularly as this will ensure that they have the stimulation they need on a consistent basis. Over time, you may also notice familiar words, signs or cues that allow you to understand what they are trying to communicate more easily.

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