4 Effective Communication Strategies for Seniors with Dementia
As caregivers in an assisted living community in Collingswood NJ, we work with a range of people who have different levels of need. Among these unique and different strategies, we offer specialized memory care for seniors with dementia or Alzheimer’s. If you are dealing with the onset of memory related illness in a loved one, it may help you to know a few communication strategies that the professionals at United Methodist Communities employ when working with seniors with dementia.
- Maximize attention – Dementia can make it difficult for people to pay attention. To give seniors the best chance of being involved in the communication process, you need to maximize their attention. Greet them by name, move to their eye level, and establish eye contact. Maintain eye contact throughout the conversation as it can help the person focus on you instead of other distractions such as a television or radio.
It can be hard for people with dementia to split their attention. If the senior with dementia is a part of a group conversation, ask the other people to speak one person at a time. If you are talking to a person with dementia, try to give them all of your attention (as opposed to talking to another person at the same time) to avoid distractions.
- Expression and body language – Our tone, facial expression, and body language can be the non-verbal language that communicates the strongest message to a person with dementia – especially if their language abilities have declined. Pay attention to your expression and body language when you are talking to a person with dementia. Show that you are interested by relaxing your face and maintaining eye contact, and be sure to speak calmly as this can help reduce the chance of agitation in the person. Make use of simple non-verbal cues such as smiling and nodding.
- Keep it simple – People with dementia have trouble holding a lot of information in their memory, which makes it difficult for them to understand long sentences that contain several pieces of information. Keep sentences short, simple, and familiar. If you need to deliver several pieces of information, break it up, and let the person respond to each bit of information separately.
Be aware of the words that you are using and try to stick to familiar words. Be prepared to repeat words. It is also wise to use the actual names of things such as pronouns like “it” and “they” so that the senior knows who and what you are talking about throughout the conversation.
Another area to keep it simple is with asking questions. If you need to ask a question, such as where the pain is or what the person wants to eat, make sure the questions are easy to answer. With the question about food, for example, you could introduce the topic of lunch and ask the person if they prefer a sandwich or the hot meal so that he or she doesn’t have to answer the question on their own. Keep the conversation natural and the language simple without talking down to the person.
- Support the conversation – Seniors with dementia need more time to process information. Leave a pause that is longer than usual (around four to five seconds) after a sentence so that they have time to understand what is being said. Be attuned to the senior when giving them time to come up with a response and suggest answers, repeat and rephrase information in a different way if needed. Slip in frequent reminders of the topic to help them follow the conversation and introduce every topic clearly.
United Methodist Communities brings compassionate memory care to the residents and families of our communities through our Tapestries Memory Care program.
Those interested in learning more about memory care through UMC’s assisted living communities in Camden County or across NJ can learn more here.