If your loved one has dementia, then don’t despair. While it can be difficult to communicate with them during this time, it’s important not to give up. These communication strategies will help you stay connected to seniors in dementia and assisted living facilities such as Oakleigh of Macomb.
How to Make Your Loved One With Dementia Open Up
The phrase many families use to describe a loved one in the later stages of dementia is an “empty shell.” Indeed, a person will be a shadow of their former selves at this point. However, they are not “empty shells.” It just takes more time (and patience) for that shell to open up, and waiting for you is a beautiful pearl inside.
If you know how to open up their “shell,” you’ll have many opportunities for meaningful connections with them. Once you know what to do, you’ll be able to better communicate with them both emotionally and mentally.
Have Realistic Expectations
Understand that dementia always gets worse over time. If your loved one has dementia, they will gradually have a harder time understanding and communicating with others.
Set a Positive Tone
Keep in mind, however, that while your words may start to convey less meaning to your loved one, your attitude, tone, and body language will be more understood. That’s why you should be mindful of your tone and keep it as pleasant and respectful as possible. In lieu of words, work on using your facial expressions, tone, and physical touch to get your message across and express your affections.
Make an effort to make your environment free from distractions. Turn off the TV or radio, shut the windows, curtains, doors, etc. That way, your loved one will be able to focus all of their attention on the interaction.
Get Their Attention
Before you start speaking, be sure that you have his attention. Some ways to do this are:
- Address him by name.
- Identify yourself by name and relation.
- Keep him focused, not with words but by touch and nonverbal cues.
- Stay on his level, meaning that if he’s sitting, sit with him, and maintain eye contact. If he’s standing, stand up too and try to keep eye contact going.
Practice Nonverbal Cues
Keep nonverbal cues in mind during your communication. Keep the eye contact going and remember to smile. That will help to reassure him and facilitate communication. Furthermore, if his dementia is in the advanced stage, nonverbal communication might be your only option, so get good at it now!
Speak Calmly and Warmly
Not everyone can do this naturally. Here are some things to keep in mind:
- Stick to simple words and sentences.
- Speak slowly and in a reassuring manner.
- Don’t talk too loudly; try to keep your pitch lower.
- Don’t engage in “baby talk.”
- Avoid sounding condescending.
Keep Your Questions Simple and Easy to Answer
Here’s what we mean by “simple and easy” questions.
- When it comes to questions, remember the rule “one at a time.”
- “Yes or no” questions are the best type of questions.
- Avoid open-ended questions.
- Avoid questions that could have too many possible answers.
- It’s better to use visual aids when asking questions. You could also use these to highlight the options to your question. For example, “would you like the brown or blue pants?”
You may need to rephrase your questions sometimes. But if he doesn’t understand the first time, just repeat yourself once more. If he doesn’t understand the second time, let a few minutes pass and then ask your question again in a different way. Give him some more time to process the question this time. Try not to get frustrated – patience is key.
Ask Questions About the Distant Past
If you need to help your loved one feel better, helping him remember his past is a good way to do it. People with dementia often can’t recall what happened 30 minutes ago but can recall what happened in their life 30 years ago just fine. This is why you should avoid asking short term questions and instead stick to asking questions about his distant past.
We don’t just mean listening to their words. Listening intently means listening with your eyes and heart as well. Be patient for his reply. Suggest words if he is struggling to answer the question. You are free to make word suggestions as well.
Listening with your eyes means watching his body language and nonverbal cues in order to respond in the appropriate way.
Listening with your heart means paying attention to the meaning and feelings behind his words.
Address People With Their Names
Here are some things to keep in mind when it comes to your choice of words:
- Instead of using abbreviations or pronouns, use names instead.
- Avoid saying pronouns like “they” “he” and “she.”
- Greet your loved one with “hello Grandpa. It’s me, Matthew” instead of “hey, it’s me!”
Explain Things Step by Step
Activities should be broken down step by step. This will make completing tasks together much easier. Here’s how the process should usually go:
- Encourage your loved one to do what he can.
- Kindly remind him of the steps he usually forgets
- Assist him with any steps that he needs help completing
Also, don’t forget those visual cues!
Stick to One Topic at a Time
A person with dementia might have trouble following and maintaining a conversation that is multidimensional.
Don’t Try to Prove That He’s Wrong
It’s pointless to try and prove him wrong – just focus on the feelings he’s displaying and respond in an appropriate way. COmfort him with both physical and verbal gestures. Praising him, hugging him, or holding his hand are great ways to make him respond when everything else fails.
Humor Is Fine (But Not at Their Expense)
Keeping your sense of humor will help you make light of things and will help your loved one feel happier as well. Usually, people with dementia still have their social skills, so they will happily laugh along with you.