Communicating with Dementia: What Caregivers Need to Know

Dementia is a term used to describe symptoms related to a decline in memory, communication and thinking abilities which are severe enough to impact a person’s ability to do daily activities. Alzheimer’s Disease as explained by the Alzheimer’s Association accounts for 60 to 80% of cases of dementia. Some other causes are Parkinson’s disease, traumatic brain injury, and strokes. For those who have dementia, communication is affected in two significant ways—the ability of a person to process information and to communicate with others.

The Alzheimer’s Association explains the deterioration of these skills as a progressive illness beginning with confusion when forgetting an occasional word and then advancing into the inability to speak or respond verbally. As memory and thinking deteriorate, the connection the dementia patient has with caregivers slowly erodes so everyday interactions are complicated. Patients can become frightened and irritated as they begin to understand less and the pain of not understanding or being understood can be reflected in their angry or abrupt responses to others.

Communication depends upon receiving, understanding and processing a message. With dementia, the patient often has a hard time understanding and processing the message. The part of the brain linked to memory and learning new things is affected by the diseases associated with dementia. Adjusting to the changes associated with dementia can be overwhelming yet with patience and a basic understanding of how to connect one on one it is possible to create a stronger bond to comfort and assist someone struggling with memory.

The Alzheimer’s Society suggests several options for communicating. One of the ways to relate as a caregiver to a patient with dementia is to remember to keep sentences simple and to direct them what to do rather than what not to do. Non-verbal communication is important too. For example, asking a patient if he or she is hungry could include pointing to the refrigerator or simply offering food. These actions make it less confusing for the patient and can lead to more positive communication. Connecting with the dementia patient through songs and music can work well as the part of the brain which stores music is different from the one that accesses spoken language and is not as affected by the underlying disease.

Watching the decline of the loved one can be very painful. Stress associated with a diagnosis of dementia can create a communication barrier as both the caregiver and patient can become frustrated. While it is challenging caring for someone with dementia, caregivers should try to be patient and to remain supportive. Dementia is a progressive disease and takes not only a toll on the patient but all those who love the individual; however, by learning some simple ways of connecting with a loved one, it is possible to communicate love and understanding.

If you are struggling to care for a loved one with Dementia, we can help. Contact our compassionate Life Care Planning Team today  at 856-857-6007