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12 Helpful Communication Tips When Talking With Someone Living With Dementia

Updated: Jun 1

Hello!


Welcome to The Memory Compass. We are your family's personal memory loss navigator! Our private practice provides 1:1 dementia navigation coaching and consulting services across the United States and beyond!


Over 55 million individuals live with dementia worldwide, and part of our mission is to help break the stigma associated with dementia and memory loss. We hope these helpful communication tips below allow you to better connect with someone facing memory loss.



Helpful Tips for Communication Partners:

  1. Communicate face to face and at eye level. It is very helpful to be face to face during conversations with individuals who have a memory impairment. This allows the individual to hear spoken words more clearly. Additionally, facial expressions and gestures provide more stimuli and input for the individual.

  2. Slow down! During communication exchanges, it is important to know that individuals with dementia can take anywhere from 10 – 30 seconds (and sometimes longer) to process information. Therefore, it can be helpful to provide a 1-step direction and allow time for processing before providing the next direction.

  3. Use closed-ended questions. For example, you should ask, “Do you want chicken or steak for dinner” instead of “What would you like for dinner?". Also, instead of asking, "What do you want to wear today?" you should ask, "Would you like to wear the blue shirt or the white shirt?" and hold both shirts up in line of sight. Narrowing down options will help decrease confusion while still promoting preferences.

  4. Introduce yourself when talking. When calling or visiting, you could say, “Hi, John! This is your son, Mike. I just wanted to call to talk to you today.” This sets a conversation up for success since it allows the individual to avoid any anxiety or frustration associated with figuring out who they are speaking with.

  5. Never say “Remember". "Remember we talked about this earlier?” can be frustrating or discouraging to the individual. Taking the word “remember” out is perceived in a much better light!

  6. Plan ahead and present requests in a friendly tone. People with memory loss often dislike being told to do something. For example, saying, “John, you need to take a shower. You haven’t had one in days” could be harsh. Instead, say, “Let’s go into the bathroom,” and already have the bathroom ready for a nice shower. This same example can be used for changing clothes and taking medications, among other activities.

  7. If conflict occurs, try not to take it personally. An individual with dementia does not have the same “filter” that an individual without dementia has. The “fight or flight” response is more exposed and is constantly getting triggered.

  8. Help your loved one "talk around" words. If your loved one cannot think of the word they are trying to say, try helping them retrieve it by saying something like, “What can you tell me about it?” If it is an object, you could say, "Tell me what it looks like." If you know what they are trying to say, filling it in for them is usually best. However, be sure to ask them their preference when doing this, and do not assume it is okay to speak for them.

  9. Avoid open-ended questions that quiz your loved one. Questions like “Do you remember our wedding anniversary?” or “Do you know who is in this picture?” or “Do you know what day it is?” can put your loved one on the defensive. To set conversations up for success, provide information like this to your loved one. Also, you can make your loved one feel comfortable in the conversation and decrease anxiety or frustration by avoiding questions to which they do not know the answers.

  10. Regularly remind your loved one of important information. It is best not to assume that they remember what you told them the day before or even what you told them earlier that day. Repeat this information regularly to remind them of important topics or appointments. For example, even if you've discussed a doctor's appointment earlier in the day when it is time to go, you should say, “It's time to get ready for your appointment. We are going to see your eye doctor, Dr. Smith."

  11. Never argue or disagree. Instead, join in with their reality and validate their feelings. We know this is not easy, but the brain is changing, and we cannot attempt to reason with someone who has lost the tools to reason.

  12. Reminisce! Typically, individuals living with dementia have more success when recalling information from their past. We know that sometimes, visiting a loved one living with memory loss may feel uncomfortable for the communication partner because they are unsure what to discuss. We recommend having a list of favorite topics or memories for these occasions. A basket with memories listed on separate index cards can be a great way to spark a memory and kick off a conversation. Reminiscing also does not have just to include stories. It can also engage the senses, including objects, scents, flavors, and music. Have fun!


 





By: Jessie Hillock, M.A., SLP, CDP

Owner at The Memory Compass, LLC

Dementia Navigation Coach & Consultant

Certified Dementia Practitioner

Background as a Speech-Language Pathologist


The Memory Compass supports families across the US by providing them with their own personal dementia navigator. We tailor our service to the needs of our clients. Here are just a few examples of how we can provide support:

  • Why is my loved one demonstrating certain characteristics? Education on brain changes, best communication approaches, and how to promote participation in activities of daily living ADLs) & leisure activities

  • Navigating the maze that is our healthcare system: What to advocate for pro-actively in a reactive healthcare world

  • Onboarding friends, family, etc.: a plan for outings, vacations, holidays, and care needs

  • Managing challenging moments: Confusion, anger, grief, and frustration

  • A care partner needs assessment and systems for balancing the needs of more than one important person: yourself, your other family members, pets, etc

  • Navigating care transitions, understanding disease progression, and when an increased level of care may be necessary: safety with driving, medication management, financial management, in-home companion care, Assisted Living, Memory Care, Long Term Care, & hospice

  • Navigation through rehabilitation stays or transition to senior care and guidance on preparing for care plan meetings and advocating for your loved one

  • Resources within reach: Save time and energy with individualized care need recommendations and locating services in your area

  • Emergency plan: Let's create one together!

  • Home safety: Modifications and product recommendations

  • And SO MUCH MORE!

We also provide comprehensive cognitive screenings and cognitive wellness services available virtually or by phone.


 

Are You Interested In Working With Jessie To Provide Your Business Or Organization With Dementia Training, Workshops, Or Present At An Upcoming Event?


CLICK HERE to learn more today!





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