5 Tips for Improving Communication Between Those with Dementia and Their Caregivers

When a loved one is diagnosed with dementia, they can experience a variety of symptoms as the disease progresses over time. One of the most common symptoms associated with the progression of dementia is deterioration in communication.

Over time, the communication skills of those with dementia will gradually diminish. According to the Alzheimer’s Association, the changes in a person’s ability to communicate will change, but some common signs to watch for include easily losing a train of thought, difficulty finding the right words, relying on gestures more than speaking, and difficulty organizing words logically.

As your loved one with dementia progresses through the stages of the disease, their ability to properly communicate can go from slightly difficult to almost completely nonverbal. While losing the ability to communicate with the loved one you care for can be frustrating and sometimes scary, there are some ways that you can improve communication. Five tips for helping communication are below.

Avoid Distractions. This can be an easy first step in making communication clear with the loved one you are caring for. Simple tasks like turning off the TV or radio or asking children or others to leave the room for a moment could create a distraction-free environment for communication to be more effective.

Things like this not only will help your loved one focus, but will also eliminate extra noise that may make it hard to hear the things you are saying. DailyCaring.com suggests observing the environment to see what other distractions in the room may need to be removed.

Listen Actively and Attentively. Being an active participant in a conversation with a loved one is key to communicating clearly. DailyCaring.com says that nodding and having encouraging responses to the loved one you’re caring for lets them know that you want to hear more.

The Mayo Clinic suggests keeping your body language relaxed to let your loved one know that you’re comfortable speaking with them. Making eye contact will also aid in communication here.

Never underestimate the power of a handwritten note! Nonverbal forms of communication such as writing, texting, or emailing are a great way to give your loved one some control over their communication and can assist you in clearly communicating with them as well.

Give Choices and Use Yes or No Responses. Giving a choice between two different things or asking yes or no questions can significantly improve communication between you and your loved one with dementia. Making suggestions like “Would you rather have burgers or spaghetti for dinner tonight?” allows your loved one to focus on the two options given and more easily decide, says DailyCaring.com.

Giving too many options to your loved one with dementia can overwhelm them. Asking them yes or no questions also eases their ability to make decisions for themselves. Saying “Do you want to watch TV?” is much easier to answer than “What do you want to do?” and narrows down the response for your loved one.

Keep it Simple and Direct. Say exactly what you mean with no uncertain terms when having a conversation with your loved one with dementia. The Mayo Clinic recommends using short sentences, which goes hand in hand with providing choices or yes or no questions like we mentioned before.

DailyCaring.com notes that when referencing an object or another person, pointing to the object or person instead of using pronouns to address them will make things more clear for the person you’re communicating with.

Don’t Forget to Take a Break. Errors or difficulty in communication can be frustrating and can get the best of even the most patient caregivers over time. Taking time for yourself when you’re at your breaking point can be helpful. Going for a short walk or spending some time alone can help you destress when frustrated.

Spending a few minutes meditating is a great way to ground yourself and understand that the communication issues you’re experiencing with your loved one are out of your control. Meditating can also help you empathize with the situation. The Family Caregiver Alliance has a library of short, caregiver-focused meditations available on their YouTube channel for free. These videos are meant to help caregivers reduce stress and are short in length to help caregivers make the most of their day.

Communication with a loved one with dementia can be overwhelming and the tips we mentioned above make it easier for both the caregiver and the one they’re caring for. In addition to these tips, resources such as support groups and webinars can give you more tips and insider knowledge from experts and caregivers who have been there before.

The Caregiver Support Initiative offers free support groups and webinars each month aimed at supporting caregivers through wherever they are at on their journey. You can learn more about the services we offer on our website or Facebook page.