The dos and don’ts of communicating with dementia patients


When someone is not “dementia-aware,” communicating with a patient or loved one with the disease can seem like a daunting task.

Ineffective communication is compounded by repeated mistakes and the degenerative nature of dementia, adding a level of stress to both the caregiver and the patient.

As a long-time advocate and educator of dementia and aging-related issues, I witness first-hand how devastating poor methods of communication can be on family members and professional caregivers alike.

In my talks across the country and in training videos, I introduce this concept: dementia is something that cannot be stopped, fixed or changed. Because of this truth, dementia-awareness is key not only to how we communicate with patients, but how we care for them, too.

Here are the Dos and Don’ts of Communicating with someone with dementia. We will start with the dos.

·      Gain the person’s attention BEFORE you begin speaking with him or her.

·      Call them by name.

·      Be patient and allow time for a response. Remember, people with dementia are what I call “process-challenged,” and therefore need a little extra time.

·      Use simple words and short sentences.

·      Try simple rephrasing when a previous phrase proves ineffective.

Here are the don’ts:

·      Do not over-talk or reason. Instead, choose action.

·      Limit background noise.

·      It’s OK to repeat, but avoid repeating yourself too much.

·      Do not ask “do you remember?” Chances are they do not. Yet, they may smile and give an affirmative answer while feeling anxiety from within.

·      Do not take what they say personally.

These tools are proven to be effective in empowering caregivers the ability to successfully communicate and in many case, build meaningful moments and practical stepping stones for other activities inside the home or care facility. As you develop stronger channels of communication, you’ll begin to see more and more success.

We may employ these techniques to spur patients into other actions, like eating. While these are positive results, family members acting as caregivers hope for more. As you become more dementia-aware, you’ll notice the power in these seemingly mundane tasks as they become moments in which we bond, love and care for one another. But always keep this in mind, too: you can remember their love when they may be unable to do the same.

You can expect more tips like this in my upcoming video series, which will soon be released on my website.

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