As always, January is Alzheimer Awareness Month. There are 564,000 Canadians living with dementia, so the odds are unfortunately good that someone in your life has memory issues. With that in mind, I am going to dedicate this column to the subject of communication.
Communication is a critical component of our life; it allows us to express who we are and relate to one another in a meaningful way. Communication is more than talking and listening, it involves understanding and interpreting.
Dementia affects how people express themselves and understand what is being communicated to them. For the person with dementia, maintaining relationships can be a complex process, especially when verbal communication is affected. The following changes are common:
- Difficulty finding a word
- Creating new words for ones that are forgotten
- Repeating a word or phrase (perseveration)
- Difficulty organizing words into logical sentences
- Cursing or using other offensive language
- Reverting to the language that was first learned
- Talking less than usual
Difficulties with communication can be discouraging for the person with dementia and their families and friends, so consider creative ways to understand and connect with each other. These strategies are successful because they are based on a person-centred philosophy, one that views people with dementia first and foremost as individuals, with unique attributes, personal values and history.
Here are some tips for communicating with a person with dementia. Communicating well with someone who has dementia is not a skill that is learned overnight – it requires patience and practice. Remember to CONNECT not to CORRECT.
- Before you speak: Reduce distractions in the environment. For example, lowering the volume of the TV or radio. Make eye contact and use the person’s name when addressing them. Make sure that the person is wearing a working hearing aid and/or clean glasses, if prescribed. As some people have problems recognizing family and friends, you might want to introduce yourself and remind them who you are.
- How to speak: Get close enough so they can see your facial expressions and any gestures you may use. Speak clearly at a slightly slower pace and use short and simple sentences. Use closed-ended questions which are focused and require a simple “yes” or “no” answer. Show respect and patience. Avoid using childish talk or any demeaning language. Do not talk about the person as if they are not there!
- How to listen: Listen carefully to what the person is saying and observe both verbal and non-verbal communications. Be patient and try not to interrupt the person even if you think you know what they are saying. If the person is having difficulty finding the right words, you can offer a guess as long as they appear to want some help. If you do not understand what is said, avoid making assumptions. Check back with them to see if you have understood what they mean.
There is a myriad of helpful information on the Alzheimer website, but I will continue with this subject next week. In the interim, call 613-962-0892 if you are interested in participating in a “Finding Your Way” seminar on January 24th, or simply if your need some support right away. You do not have to travel the journey alone.