7 Tips for Communicating With a Person Who Has Dementia

Posted: 6/20/2022 12:58 PM by Interim HealthCare

Whether your loved one was recently diagnosed, or you’ve been caring for someone with dementia for years, it’s likely at some point you’ll feel as though the person you’ve known and loved your whole life has suddenly become unrecognizable. 


Dementia can cause people to speak and act in ways you have never seen before. Caring for someone with dementia can often feel draining and lonely. If you’re struggling, it’s important to know you are not alone. When you empower yourself with the knowledge needed to navigate this new normal, you can communicate more effectively with your loved one who is suffering from dementia. Utilizing just one or two of the following tips may make the process easier and less frustrating for you and for them. 


Tip 1: Remember it’s all about control


If you think about it, control is the one thing that empowers us to live our lives the way we want to. Most of us have control over the most basic things: hygiene, what we eat, our finances, what we say, and how we say it. It’s important to first acknowledge that your loved one with dementia has most likely lost all control over those basic things and more. 


Try to remind yourself that this feeling of being out of control is unsettling, upsetting, and constant. If you give your loved one as much control as possible in any given scenario, chances are that their reactions will be calmer.


Tip 2: Educate yourself on your loved one’s condition


It’s not just your loved one that is battling a sense of losing control–the same goes for you. Their life has changed. Your life has changed. And you’re both trying to navigate this new normal that you didn’t ask for. As a caregiver, the more you know about dementia and what to expect, the more empowered you will be to make educated decisions on how to communicate and care for your loved one. 


Dementia is hard–for you and your loved one. Unfortunately, a diagnosis of dementia doesn’t come with a manual on how to navigate the ups and downs, but our Interim HealthCare Dementia Caregiver’s Guide can be a great resource to help you learn more about the disease and what to expect. 


Tip 3: Monitor your own reactions to their actions, even if they are difficult to manage


According to The 36 Hour Day, a highly regarded book and resource for dementia caregivers, people who have dementia communicate better when they are relaxed. That means your demeanor plays a huge role in your loved one's level of relaxation, too. As often as possible, try to appear relaxed–even if you aren’t. 


Tip 4: Be open with your loved one and share your concerns


Just because your loved one’s memory may not function the same, that doesn’t mean they don’t still process grief and pain. Sharing your concern with your loved one in the moment (even though they may not remember it tomorrow) can help them better understand difficult situations and allow them to manage the problem. 


Tip 5: Try to solve your most difficult situations one a time


As the old saying goes, the best way to eat an elephant is one bite at a time. While it’s an odd scenario to picture, it lends itself to caring for a person with dementia. Instead of becoming overwhelmed by the many things that your loved one can no longer do, try to tackle each problem one at a time. The 36 Hour Day recommends singling out one thing that you can change to make life easier, and work on that first. Sometimes changing small things can make a big difference. 


Tip 6: Be sure to take time for yourself and practice self-care


If you’re in the throes of providing dementia care, you may laugh at this one. “Self-care? Who has time for that?” Remember that in an emergency on a plane, you have to put your oxygen mask on first before you can help others. This same concept is true it comes to caregiving. You aren’t at your best for your loved one when you are tired, irritable, or at the end of your rope. Reach out to other family members or even your local Alzheimer’s Association for help when you need someone to sit with your loved one. You may even want to consider in-home care or adult day centers.


Even if you can’t leave for an extended period of time, it’s important to take a few minutes or even seconds to remember to breathe deeply and re-focus on the task at hand.


Tip 7: Know that your loved one has trouble making themselves understood


There are two common kinds of communication problems that come with dementia. According to The 36 Hour Work Day, people experience issues with expressing themselves to others and issues related to understanding what people say to them. To put it simply, they may understand more than they can express, or may express more than they can understand. 


It’s important not to make assumptions about what a person understands. Try your best to clarify what your loved one is trying to express, and you’ll show them that you are listening to them. Think about yourself–being listened to can go a long way when you are feeling frustrated.


Know you are not alone. Help is available.


As you already know, there are a lot of responsibilities that come with caring for a loved one with dementia. Learning to communicate with your loved one is just the tip of the iceberg. The journey of a dementia caregiver is not easy, but arming yourself with the right tools can make the job a little smoother.  


To learn more about being a dementia caregiver, we encourage you to check out our Interim HealthCare Dementia Guide