Last week I provided some tips on how to communicate with an individual with a dementia. This week we are going to delve a little deeper into the subject and consider how you can successfully interact with a person with a dementia in a positive, meaningful manner. Being a caregiver for a loved one with a dementia is difficult enough, but if you also feel you have lost your “social circle” as a result of the disease, it can be absolutely debilitating. Friends and family can still provide the same welcoming social environment, but they may have to do a little homework if they wish to be truly supportive.
Respectful, sensitive, ongoing communication is the key to positive relationships. Here are ways to help you and the person with dementia understand each other better:
- Learn about dementia, its progression, and how it affects individuals. As abilities change, you can learn to interpret the person’s messages by paying attention to both verbal and non-verbal cues.
- Believe that communication is possible at all stages of dementia. What a person says or does and how a person behaves has meaning. Never lose sight of the person and what they are trying to tell you.
- Focus on the person’s abilities and skills. If the person’s speech has become hard to understand, using what you know about them and what you are feeling can help you interpret what they might be trying to say. Consider alternate ways of expression through art, music or other activities to maintain and enhance communication.
- Reassure and be positive. Use familiar things to create a sense of comfort and reassurance and encourage the person to communicate in ways that work for them. Laughter and humour are positive ways to help you get through difficult times. Humour can bring you closer, can release tension, and is good therapy.
- Meet the person where they are and accept their new reality. If the person’s perception of reality becomes confused, try to find creative ways around the situation rather than reacting negatively. Avoid contradicting the person or trying to convince them that what they believe is untrue or inaccurate.
- Use actions as well as words. For example, if it is time to go for a walk, point to the door or bring the person’s coat or sweater to illustrate what you mean. Use body movements such as pointing or demonstrating an action to help the person understand what you are saying.
- Have a positive interactive environment. A positive mood, tone of voice, and body language will go a long way to providing a better opportunity to positively interact with someone with dementia.
- Redirect when communication becomes difficult. When a loved one is trying to do something and it is not going well, and frustration escalates for both of you, redirection, just as re-approaching is a very good way to prevent difficult behavior from getting worse.
- Reminiscing is a great way to communicate and calm someone with dementia. Since those with dementia can often recall times from their past more easily, but their short-term memory fails them, they can connect with you and others to events from their past. If you stay away from recent events and focus on the past you might be able to engage them for a longer period of time.
Caring for someone with dementia is tough work and continuing to engage the person with dementia in your social circle can be difficult as well. It is imperative that you remember the person you cared about is still there and still someone to care about.