Dementia changes many things and one of them is language. In fact, one of the earliest signs of dementia is the inability to retrieve words. Another is difficulty following a storyline and/or processing information. Changes in communication are to be expected and can be navigated with proper dementia care preparation. The preparation can come in all shapes and forms; have you ever heard how the rules of Improv being a good way to communicate with a loved one with dementia? As dementia impacts your loved one’s language abilities you may observe some of the following symptoms:
- Difficulty retrieving the right words in conversation.
- Describing familiar objects rather than using the name, i.e. that silver thing near the sink, rather than using the word “toaster”.
- Losing the train of thought regularly and becoming lost in a conversation.
- Using his or her native language again.
- Using gestures more than words to communicate.
As the caregiver of a loved one with dementia, you will have to learn how to adapt to these language changes to avoid unnecessary conflict and communicate easily. Here are the top five communication techniques for talking with those who have early stage dementia.
1. Simplify conversations: Your loved one may find it difficult to follow a complicated story line. The usual course of a “he said, she said” conversation will become very complex and confusing. Instead, simplify the story and summarize it for your loved one. He or she will still want to hear the story but it will have to be related from one person’s point of view instead of several.
2. Be understanding: Avoid using phrases like “Don’t you remember?”, “We just talked about this”, or “I already told you.” A person with dementia can’t remember or recall things that they have forgotten. These phrases communicate impatience and that doesn’t help your loved one.
3. Agree with your loved one: Dementia can cause paranoia and delusions. If your loved one exhibits these signs, don’t try to talk him or her out of it. Agree with what your loved one is concerned about, tell him or her you will take care of it right away and then change the subject.
4. Redirect the conversation: Redirection is the best strategy to cope with language deficiencies caused by dementia. Those suffering from the disease may become increasingly frustrated with the inability to retrieve words. You can help to ease their discomfort and anxiety by saying things like, “Well, let’s talk more about that later.” “I know what you are trying to say and I can’t think of the word either. Let’s look at this book and then we’ll talk about it some more.”
5. Take time for the conversation: We may all talk quickly, but that doesn’t apply to dementia. Slow down, take the time to have the conversation and don’t rush your loved one to participate. He or she will need time to respond and time to think. Don’t interrupt or finish sentences for your loved one. It’s important to let him or her try to finish the sentence alone or change it naturally.
It is important to speak directly to your loved one. Don’t talk around them like they aren’t there. This is especially important to remember in the doctor’s office. Don’t let the doctor talk to you and act like your loved one isn’t in the room. You can prompt the doctor by saying things like, “I would appreciate it if you would talk to both of us,” or “My mother is right here. I think it would be best if you talked to her too.” We understand communication can be one high-level dementia-related challenge. Sometimes this challenge can lead to difficulty communicating the need for dementia care support with your parent.