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Thursday, June 6th 3:30pm-5pm. Click HERE & RSVP Today!
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communication with dementia

Communication with Dementia: Effective Strategies for Each Stage of Memory Loss in Loved Ones 

Dementia progressively impairs a person’s ability to remember and understand basic facts, including names, dates, and places.

Over the stages of dementia, communication is affected, altering their ability to articulate ideas and reason clearly.

For those caring for somebody with dementia, adapting communication strategies will help maintain connection and understanding. 

Bridging the gap between caregivers and their loved ones is one of our main goals with our educational events. 

Please RSVP and join us on May 2nd for our upcoming event, “Open House for Caregivers: Spring Book Club with Author Cindy Weinstein” to learn effective dementia communication techniques.

Listen in as Cindy guides you through selected excerpts from her work, and ask your top caregiver questions in a welcoming, intimate setting. You will not only benefit from her wide-ranging wisdom and experience but also connect with other family caregivers who are on similar journeys! While you’re here, enjoy a delicious spring spread of sweet and savory hors d’oeuvres made with love by Chef Tony.

Our promise is to love and care for your family as we do our own.

Changes in communication among people with dementia

As dementia progresses, whether it’s from Alzheimer’s or other types of dementia, the ability to communicate undergoes significant changes and challenges.

Understanding these shifts will help caregivers and families maintain meaningful connections with their loved ones.

Dementia’s impact on communication

Dementia gradually impairs the brain’s ability to use language effectively. This includes speaking, understanding, reading, and writing. 

As the brain changes, so does the way the person expresses thoughts and processes what is said to them.

Common communication challenges in dementia

  • Word-finding difficulties: Struggling to find the right words or substituting incorrect words can lead to confusing conversations.
  • Reliance on non-verbal cues: As verbal skills decline, gestures, facial expressions, and other non-verbal forms of communication become more prevalent.
  • Reverting to native language: Some individuals may start using their first language more frequently, which can be challenging if those around them are not fluent in that language.
  • Frequent repetition: Repeating the same words, questions, or stories is a common issue as short-term memory declines.
  • Loss of train of thought: Difficulty in maintaining a line of thought can lead to incomplete conversations and frustration.
  • Organizational difficulties: Struggling to arrange words in a coherent order makes it hard to convey messages effectively.
  • Sensory impairments: Hearing and vision losses are not uncommon and can significantly hinder communication. Regular checks and appropriate aids like hearing aids or glasses can mitigate these issues and improve interactions.

Communication in the early stage of dementia

In the early stages of dementia, individuals can still engage meaningfully but may begin experiencing challenges like word-finding difficulties or story repetition.

Tips for enhancing communication in the early stage

  • Include them in conversations: Actively engage them by asking for their opinions on familiar topics, like discussing a favorite old movie or planning a family meal. This keeps them connected and valued.
  • Be patient: When you ask a question, wait patiently for the response, even if it takes longer than usual. For example, when discussing plans, you might say, “What would you like to do this weekend?” and then give them time to think and answer.
  • Use humor: Incorporate light-hearted jokes or recall amusing memories. For instance, you might gently tease about a known family recipe mishap.
  • Adapt communication methods: If they prefer talking over the phone instead of texting, make regular calls. If they find digital tablets easier, use apps that facilitate simple communication.

Communication in the middle stage of dementia

As dementia progresses to the middle stage, communication issues become more pronounced. Individuals may struggle significantly with language and remembering the details of conversations.

Tips for middle-stage communication

  • Simplify language: Use clear, direct sentences like, “It’s time for lunch,” instead of open-ended statements.
  • Use visual aids: Show a picture or demonstrate an action to clarify your words. For instance, point to a chair when asking them to sit.
  • Maintain eye contact and reassure: Keeping eye contact conveys that you are focused and caring. Pair this with a calm, patient demeanor to reassure them, even if they’re confused.

Communication in the late stage of dementia

In the late stage, verbal communication, such as in the case of frontotemporal aphasia, may be minimal or absent. Non-verbal cues become crucial for interaction.

Advice on non-verbal communication techniques

  • Focus on emotional and sensory communication: Use the tone of your voice and touch to express care and provide comfort. For example, a gentle tone or a soothing hand on the shoulder can be very reassuring.
  • Recognize and respond to emotional cues: Pay attention to facial expressions or body language that might indicate discomfort or needs.
  • Use touch and sight: A comforting pat on the hand or maintaining eye contact can communicate presence and compassion effectively. Holding an object they like or showing a familiar photo can help trigger memories and feelings.

What not to say to a person with memory loss

Here are some phrases to avoid and why, along with examples of what you could say instead to keep conversations positive and supportive.

“Do you remember…?”: 

Asking if they remember specific events can cause frustration or embarrassment if they don’t recall.

Instead, share your memories warmly, like: “I loved when we used to go to the beach on Sundays. It was so relaxing to hear the waves.”

“I just told you that.”

This can make them feel ashamed or anxious about their forgetfulness.

Try repeating information patiently, or say it differently: “Yes, we mentioned visiting Sarah next week. It’ll be nice to see her garden.”

“You’re wrong.”

Correcting mistakes directly can lead to defensiveness or sadness.

Redirect gently, or focus on the emotions behind their words: “That sounds like a wonderful time, even if it was a different place. Tell me more about it.”

“Why don’t you understand?”

This can be perceived as critical and diminish their confidence in communicating.

Be supportive and encouraging: “Let’s go through this together; it can be quite tricky.”

Incorporating PAC training in Redwood City

Kensington Place Redwood City employs the Positive Approach to Care (PAC) training, a method devised by Teepa Snow, created for caregivers and healthcare workers managing individuals with Alzheimer’s and dementia. 

PAC training teaches team members how to effectively communicate and interpret behaviors—whether aggressive or non-verbal—enabling them to “read between the lines” and provide assertive and compassionate care for residents.

Examples:

  • Interpreting aggression: If a resident becomes visibly upset, caregivers are trained to recognize this as an expression of unmet needs, rather than hospitality. They might respond with “I see this is upsetting you, let’s find a quiet place where you feel better.”
  • Decoding refusal: If a resident refuses to participate in activities, our team uses PAC techniques to understand why. For example, “It’s okay if you’re not ready now. Can I help make this easier for you?” or “I’d love to hear your thoughts on this, whenever you’re ready.”

Discover compassionate memory care at Kensington Place Redwood City

Explore Kensington Place Redwood City’s memory care communities, Connections, and Haven, designed for early to mid-stages of Alzheimer’s and dementia.

Experience dedicated care, enriching programs, and our commitment to supporting families and caregivers.

Learn more about our memory care program and Our Promise to love and care for your family as we do our own.

Contact Kensington Place Redwood City today to schedule a tour of our memory care community.

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