Connecting with Care: How to Talk to Someone with Dementia

 In Blog

Caring for someone with dementia can be a challenging and emotional journey. One of the most difficult aspects of caring for someone with dementia is communicating with them effectively. 

If the person with dementia is not able to express themselves, they can lose confidence, feel anxious or depressed, or become withdrawn. They may have trouble finding the right word, may repeat words and phrases, or may use one word when they mean another. Because they are unable to communicate in the way they are used to, you may find that they get frustrated or that their behaviour becomes challenging to understand.

When your loved one is diagnosed with dementia it can feel like the floor has been taken out from under you, and you may not know how to process this news. However, learning how to communicate with someone who has dementia is key to maintaining a meaningful bond.

At Lidder Care we provide dementia care in Nottingham at our Lowmoor and Newgate Lodge Care Homes, and our staff are adept at finding the correct form of communication for each of our residents.

We have compiled our top three tips for how to talk to someone with dementia following a Dementia Awareness course that the Alzheimer’s Society held at our Newgate Lodge care home in March, giving you the knowledge needed to cultivate your relationship.

1. Putting their comfort first

When talking to a loved one with dementia, ensuring their comfort first is paramount. Residents with Dementia may have difficulty focusing and become easily distracted, so find a quiet place away from any distractions as that will make it easier for them to concentrate on you and the conversation at hand.

Find somewhere comfortable to sit and ensure that you are sitting at the same eye level, this will create a comfortable environment for both of you and is a great way to continue showing your respect for that person.

In some cases of dementia, you will find that your loved one will have times or days where they are ‘better’ and more able to uphold a conversation, more often than not these will be fairly regular in pattern, allowing you to plan your visits around their ‘good days’. They will be able to communicate more clearly during these times, so this is a good time to have important conversations, including those about any person-centred care choices they may like to make.

It’s crucial to recognise that those with dementia may have good days and bad days and their ability to communicate may vary from day to day. Be prepared to adapt your communication style to their needs and abilities and be flexible in your approach.

2. Tone of Voice

When talking to someone with dementia it is important that you don’t raise your voice, dementia does not equal a hearing impairment and raising your voice can be scary for those who don’t currently recognise you, the situation or where they are.

Use simple and clear language to communicate and avoid using complex sentences or abstract concepts. Nonverbal cues such as facial expressions and gestures can also help convey your message. For instance, if offering a cup of tea, you can point to the cup and say ‘tea’ while making a pouring motion. The Alzheimer’s Society supports this approach by saying that as more people use smartphones and tablets, you may find that the person you care for communicates more through video calls. Seeing your facial expressions and body language can be more helpful to a person with dementia than a telephone call or text message.

It is also important that you don’t revert to “elder speak” and start infantilising your loved one, think about how you may feel if you were the one with dementia and how you may want people to talk to you, and provide them with the same respect you would desire.

Dementia residents are individuals with their unique personalities, likes and dislikes. It is important to treat them with respect and empathy and avoid talking down to them or treating them like children. Be respectful and empathetic, use their preferred name and avoid using terms that are derogatory or dismissive.

3. Remember to Listen

When spending time with a loved one who has dementia it is important to listen to them, showing them that you are attentive to their needs and interests with ‘active listening’ and verbal cues. 

Be calm and reassuring, as those with dementia may take longer to process information and respond to questions. Avoid rushing or interrupting them as this may cause confusion and frustration. If you don’t understand something, politely ask them to repeat it. Similarly, if they don’t seem interested in talking and are asking to do something it is important you listen to their needs. 

There is more to communication than speech, make the most of your time together however they prefer. Why not try doing a puzzle together or watching their favourite show, that feeling of comfort provided to them through that can encourage them to open up to you.

Focus on feelings and memories. Individuals with dementia may have difficulty remembering recent events or details, but they often retain memories and emotions from their past. Engage them in conversations about their life experiences and ask open-ended questions that allow them to share their thoughts and feelings. This can help them feel valued and connected and may also reduce their anxiety and agitation.

Discover Dementia Care in Nottingham at Lidder Care

Communication with someone with dementia may require more patience and creativity, but it is still possible to connect with them and show them love and support. By following the guidance above you can help ensure that your loved one feels valued, respected and connected.At Lidder Care we provide a welcoming and friendly environment to residents with dementia. If you’re considering one of our care facilities for a loved one please get in touch with our friendly team.