Communication is the Key to Caring for People with Dementia
Re:Cognition Health’s Top Tips to Improve Communication
Supporting and caring for somebody with dementia can be very challenging at times and can have hugely impact the life and mental health of the carer. Our award-winning team of brain and mind experts understand the impact that dementia can have on carers as well as the individuals who are living with the diagnosis.
Communication is often a key barrier to improving contentedness and mood and reducing stress, yet it is an area that many carers really struggle with. To follow our team shares their top tips to help communicate more effectively and help improve relationships and contentment:
Change your behaviour
Dementia is a disease of the brain, so it’s natural that it will affect behaviour, which may include mood swings and changes in personality and behaviour. As a carer, you have the power to change your own behaviour and control how you react to their moods. Accept that anger is inevitable on some occasions. The individual with dementia may not be able to change how they behave, but you can work on becoming more patient and accepting that if they are rude, or contradict you, it is probably the disease talking, rather than the person.
Listen rather than just caring
Be a friend as well as a carer. Talk about how they are feeling and engage in their conversations; it’s important for their self -esteem that they feel their views are being valued. Read the paper with them, discuss topical news, world events and hobbies. Reminiscing about the past is also a great way to boost mood. Whilst they may struggle to remember what happened 30 minutes ago, they can clearly recall events from 30 years ago and will take great joy in talking about the good old days.
Don’t point out mistakes
Everybody makes mistakes and this is an inevitable part of dementia. Things will be put in the wrong place, conversations will be forgotten and repetition is certain, but pointing this out is very frustrating and degrading for the individual and there is nothing to be gained from correcting the mistakes (they will most likely happen again!) Sometimes it is easier to go with the flow. Your reaction to mistakes will have a profound effect on mood and stress, for both of you.
Talk to the person directly
When speaking to a person with dementia, it’s easy to jump to conclusions about whether or not they can understand or process what you are saying. Don’t assume they are unable to follow your conversation or talk to them like they are a toddler. Always make eye contact and speak to them clearly, at the same level; if they are sitting, sit or kneel next to them rather than looking down which can be intimidating.
Don’t talk too slowly, or raise your voice
A person’s hearing may be fine, and they may be able to understand you perfectly well if you don’t speak in long, complicated sentences. Slow the speech slightly, speak clearly and edit sentences so they are easy to follow and simplify the language. Ask simple questions that are easy to answer; yes or no questions work particularly well.
Avoid multiple conversations
Avoid putting the person in a situation where they are involved in lots of conversations at once. Too many people talking in a group can lead to them becoming increasingly withdrawn. It becomes very difficult to follow the flow of a conversation if too many people are involved, so it’s best to leave any group environment to no more than three.
Be aware of your body language and tone of voice
Individuals with dementia may not remember or understand what you say to them all the time but they will always pick up on your body language and the delivery. Try to speak slowly and calmly and use open body language. It’s not always about what you say but how you say it. If your tone of voice is abrupt or impatient, they will pick up on it, even if you are trying to say nice things.
Identify triggers that may cause mood swings
A person with dementia may become restless and agitated late afternoon or early evening, known as “sundowning”. They may become angry, upset, demanding or disorientated. They may become bored. If you think they are restless, then get into the habit of suggesting that you both go out for a walk earlier in the day to break up the monotony of being indoors. Or if you think they are tired, then maybe a brief nap early afternoon might be a good idea. Being more active earlier in the day may help.
Laughter is the best medicine
Using humour is a great way to make light of a situation or improve mood. It reduces stress and helps connect people. Laughter also stimulates blood circulation, making the brain release endorphins, the natural painkillers and helping to relieve stress – there are so many reasons to laugh!
Distract and deflect
If the person is feeling down, getting frustrated or agitated, distraction can be very beneficial. Try to take their mind off their feeling by suggesting an alternative activity such as a walk, cup of tea or playing a game.
To find out more about Dementia and how to manage it, please contact the friendly team at Re:Cognition Health.