Tips for communicating

Pay attention to the environment

Pay attention to the environment: 

  • Make sure there is enough lighting for the person to see you, and make sure that if they wear glasses, they are clean 
  • Make sure that unnecessary noise is reduced – sounds like the TV, washing machine,or the vacuum cleaner can be very distracting. A person who has dementia will have difficulty concentrating on too many things at once 
  • Make sure you have the person’s attention before speaking to them, it is worth also considering that they may need some time to concentrate if they have just woken up. 

When in conversation with the person you care for, try to: 

  • Speak clearly and calmly, try to avoid speaking sharply or raising your voice as this can cause distress to a person who has dementia 
  • Use simple, short sentences; a person who has memory loss is likely to remember the last thing that has been said 
  • Avoid too many closed questions (questions which require a ‘Yes’ or ‘No’ answer) as you might always get ‘No’. Instead of asking ‘Would you like a cup of tea?’ which might be declined – even though you know the person is thirsty – try something like ‘I’m just going to make a cuppa, do you fancy a biscuit with yours?’ 
  • Avoid questions that start with what, where, how , who or when as they can be quite challenging to a person who has difficulty remembering 
  • Try not to contradict the person or get into an argument, you’ll both end up exhausted! Try to ‘go with the flow’ and acknowledge what the person has said, even if you know it’s incorrect 
  • Allow time for a message to be understood when communicating, as processing information will take the person longer than it used to 
  • Keep it familiar. When talking, use familiar names and jokes that the person has known for a long time. This can give a person a frame of reference for communication when everything else seems hard to grasp. As the dementia progresses, the person may become less able to start a conversation, so you may have to start taking the initiative more often. 

Also make sure you consider the following: 

  • Be patient. Short term memory loss will make the person more likely to repeat themselves or lose the thread of a conversation 
  • Be mindful of body language and whether this could be seen as negative or threatening to the person that you support. A person who has dementia can often retain the ability to sense your mood from your language and body posture even if they can no longer articulate this 
  • Never make fun of ‘strange’ or unusual behaviour. There may be meaning behind behaviours that you will need to understand. 

Here are a few tips worth noting: 

  • Rule out other causes of eating and drinking problems. Make sure that appetite loss is not caused by an acute illness, depression or denture pain 
  • Offer snacks and meals regularly, perhaps trying 5-6 small meals a day 
  • Try and present food in bite sized pieces to avoid any risk of choking; encourage finger foods if the person you care for is having difficulty with cutlery 
  • Try an alarm call or phone call as a reminder at mealtimes 
  • Serve foods that are familiar to the person you support 
  • If the person that you care for has forgotten the types of food they like to eat, show them pictures to help with making choices 
  • Demonstrate chewing if this seems to be the problem, and eat with the person so that they can copy you 
  • Consider nutrition supplements, particularly in later stage dementia when people tend to lose a lot of weight 
  • Always make sure that the person you care for has enough fluids throughout the day; try putting bottled water in different rooms around the house 
  • Avoid denying choice altogether, make choice less complicated instead. For example, allow the person you care for to choose between two meals. Too many options to choose from may be confusing. 

Published: 2nd September 2016