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Communication can be difficult when dementia symptoms are part of the equation.

As an indispensable tool, communication is a two-way street, but sometimes it’s possible to take on certain assumptions about how the message is being received. Without a firm understanding about how the message lands, it can be difficult to get the desired result and build meaningful relationships with people in your care.

When communication expectations go unmet, it is easy to become frustrated or get angry. It’s a natural reaction, especially when you do not know what exactly got lost in translation. Despite these communication hurdles, it’s possible to have meaningful moments and create powerful connections with the people you love and care for. Here are a few ways you can nourish connections and create memorable moments that will bring a smile to everyone’s face.

Be in the moment

Let go of an unpleasant experience and start the day with no expectations or fears on how things might go. With an open and positive mind, approach each visit with the optimism of a new day. Remember, the person may or may not resemble the person you’ve always known.

Depending on how things seem, maybe it’ll be a good day for a walk. Slowly, with each step, you can begin to talk about what’s new in your life and what you look forward to. With tempered expectations, you can both enjoy the day in an unexpected way. Holding onto expectations is one of the many pitfalls that can unravel your plans. There’s a danger that it’ll snowball into other complications stemming from sadness and frustration. So, remember to start the day fresh and free of any expectation other than trying.

Turn up the music

Music is a universal language for a reason: It can inspire and change moods with a simple tune or melody. It is also known to have calming effects on the body and soul. So, if someone isn’t having a particularly good day, music could be a welcoming substitute for a forced conversation.

When the music turns on, stay in the room and enjoy it too. Remember, a bad day can cause anxiety and it will be important for your loved one to have you there with them, even if you’re just there listening to music. Later in the day, depending on what you listened to, you can share your thoughts on how you liked the music.

Also, consider playing songs that will resonate with them from their younger years.

Communicate without words

A lot of what we say is nonverbal, even if we don’t realize it. We can say a lot with a simple gesture.

Use your nonverbal cues to convey love, always. A good reminder is to think about the first time you met someone. The overall interaction, peppered with nonverbal cues, will help determine future interactions. Similarly, your loved one might feel like they’re meeting you for the first time the next time you visit. So, when things do not seem familiar to them, it’s important to greet them with love.

A gentle touch, good eye contact, a big smile and other friendly nonverbal gestures can set the tone for the entire day. The positive energy you emit will melt away your loved one’s anxiety and pave the way for a special day.

Pets and children

When you swing by for a visit, don’t underestimate the effect of having children and pets with you. Research suggests that the presence of your family can have a positive effect and lead to a better interaction with your loved one.

Pets can help lower blood pressure. Children can increase the likelihood of social interaction. Together, these factors can set the stage for a visit that’s free of anger or frustration.

Revisit the past

Memories can quickly slip away from their grasp. People living with dementia symptoms, however, are usually better attuned with long-term memory.

On a more challenging day, it might be a good idea to revisit the past, as your loved one might have some luck with accessing a distant memory. If it works, your loved one will quickly forget about the day’s frustration and open up with delight by remembering a cherished time in their life.

This is also an opportunity to learn about your loved one’s past. Childhood and early adulthood memories will give you more insights into someone you love and help you create greater bonds. These positive experiences are the building blocks that lead to meaningful moments and powerful connections.

Ask fewer questions

Sometimes it’s best just to smile more and ask fewer questions.

As you know, going heavy on questions can cause confusion and frustration, especially if the questions require a lot of thinking. Use positive action statements instead and think for them.

Start by saying hello and smiling, instead. Give your loved one some time to process what’s happening around them. While a visit is welcoming, it can also trigger anxiety since your loved one may not immediately know what’s going on. Ease in and start slow with each visit.

Through my Family Dementia Care Counseling sessions, I can help you and your family better understand dementia symptoms and subsequently manage dementia behaviors easier. Learn more here!

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