Losing the ability to communicate can be one of the most frustrating and difficult problems for people with dementia, their families and other people who care for them.
How dementia affects a person’s ability to communicate will differ from person to person, but as the illness progresses, a person with dementia finds it more and more difficult to express themselves clearly and to understand what others say.
Any frustration from that could cause them to feel more stressed, angry and resentful. Communication difficulties could include:
- Finding the right words, or getting words mixed up
- Talking fluently but not making sense
- Processing and understanding what other people are saying to them
- Losing the normal social conventions of conversation, interrupting or ignoring people
- Trouble with reading and writing.
Some communication problems could be caused by failing hearing or eyesight, so as a first step, have these checked. Eyeglasses or hearing aids could improve the situation. If the person already has glasses, keep them clean, and check any hearing aids to make sure they’re functioning properly.
Use body language
There’s more to communication than words. When we communicate, more than half of what we say is conveyed through body language, while another large proportion comes from the tone and pitch of our voice.
If you can’t find the words to make yourself understood, remember that facial expressions, pointing and gestures can help.
But remember, the same goes for negative body language. Sighs, hands on hips, raised eyebrows and angry expressions will likely be picked up, so try to be kind in your tone of voice and facial expressions.
People with dementia still have feelings and emotions even if they don’t understand what’s being said, so always consider their dignity and self-esteem. Allow time for a response. Don’t finish their sentences for them, and don’t cut them off. Allow them to express themselves however they can.
Where appropriate, use touch to keep the person’s attention and to communicate feelings of warmth and affection.
Booklet: Supporting a person with dementia
A guide for family/whānau and friends
This booklet gives you information and tips on helping a person with dementia with their personal care, such as washing and dressing, nutrition, sleeping and travelling, as well as communication and ideas for meaningful activities and ways you can look after yourself – which is very important, too.