By Carole Larkin
Alzheimer's Reading Room
Updated Communication Tips
1. Make eye contact. It is vital that they actually see you and that their attention is focused on you. Always approach from the front as approaching and speaking from the side or from behind can startle them.
2. Be at their level. Bend your knees or sit down to reach their level. Do not stand or hover over them – it is intimidating and scary. They can’t focus on you and what you are saying if they are focused on their fear.
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3. Speak calmly. Always speak in a calm manner with an upbeat tone of voice, even if you don’t feel that way. If you sound angry or agitated, they will often mirror that feeling back to you and then some.
4. Speak slowly. Speak at one half of your normal speed when talking to them. Take a breath between each sentence. They cannot process words as fast as non-diseased people can. Give them a chance to catch up to your words.
5. Speak in short sentences. Speak in short direct sentences with only one idea to a sentence. Usually they can only focus on one idea at a time.
6. Only ask one question at a time. Let them answer it before you ask another question. You can ask who, what, where and when, but NOT why. Why is too complicated. They will try to answer, fail and get frustrated. Be patient. Wait for the answer.
7. Changes in a person with dementia’s senses impact how you communicate with that person. For example: The person may not see you, due to the tunnel visionthat frequently comes with dementia or because they are not being focused on your face, but on someplace else. You need them to see your face so they can focus on your mouth forming words.
8. Or the person may not hear you, or misinterpret what you are saying. You need to check with them if they understand what you are saying.
9. It is important to let persons with dementia do as much for themselves as they can. First, control the environment as much as possible, to make sure they are safe. Then supervise them as they do as much as they can at that moment. Break tasks down to one simple step at a time, then move on to the next. Part of the task. That also means allow more time for tasks. Start the task earlier rather than later. Everyone needs to have a purpose for their day, no matter how big or small it is.
10. Give praise to the person with dementia, whenever they succeed at any task. Recognition of accomplishment raises everyone’s ego.
11. Emphasize the “we” of daily living. Let them know (verbally) that you are there, they are NOT alone and that everything will be all right. Do this constantly. It lessens their fear of abandonment.
12. Over and over, let them know that you care about them. It raises their self esteem and gives them a sense of value to their lives. We all need that.
13. People with dementia are like mirrors; they will reflect back at you whatever emotion you are showing them. They take their cues from their environment, and part of that environment is you. So smile immediately before you say a word to them it starts the conversation off in the right tone.
14. When it gets to the point where words and the meaning of words starts making less and less sense to them use body language and draw pictures for them.
Carole Larkin MA, CMC, CAEd., QDCS, EICS is a geriatric care manager who specializes in helping families with Alzheimer’s and dementia related issues. Carole works in Dallas, TX, and is also available for consultation by phone or email in the USA and in English speaking nations. You can learn more about her services at ThirdAge Services.
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Original content the Alzheimer's Reading Room