Successful Communication When Your Loved One Has Dementia

When someone you love has dementia, you’ll notice that things are changing quickly. When they make mistakes and fumble with the little things, our instinct is to correct and remind. That’s to be expected. After all, you’re hoping that a little push and a dose of reality would be enough to lead them back to the person you know and love.

As you will see below, corrections and reminders won’t always work. Effective communication with a dementia patient requires an adjustment of expectations. In the following, we’ll get you started.

Forced choices

Everyone likes to have a choice. But having too many options can actually be confusing to a patient with dementia. That’s because their working memory is operating in limited capacity. Working memory is where the brain retains just the right amount of information to finish a task — think of dialing a new phone number. So you can see how loss of working memory can be problematic in conversation and hinder decision-making.

That’s where the forced choice method can lift that burden for your loved one, and cut the confusion. Watch the video here.

Help with sequencing

We take basic daily tasks for granted: eating, standing, brushing our teeth. Though these tasks feel natural and automatic, we rely on the frontal lobe to help us complete these tasks. When someone is experiencing dementia, the brain degeneration can make them lose their ability to access this command center. When you see your loved one freeze, as if in confusion, you can help them through the basic task with sequencing, by breaking down the tasks into simple steps. This video about sequencing provides some examples.

The therapeutic fib

You can never go wrong with the truth, or so you’re taught. But when it comes to dementia and Alzheimer’s, the truth actually has a cruel side. Because when someone is living with degenerative memory, they sometimes lose track of key details of their loved ones. The fact that a partner or a child is deceased or gone can literally be forgotten. In cases like these, telling the truth can be devastating — it will be as if they’re hearing this horrible news for the first time. This is where a therapeutic fib can get you both through the difficult moment, and this video explains how.

Admit wrongdoing when you’re right

Speaking of truth, sometimes your loved one with dementia will get basic things wrong. They may insist, for example, that they can’t possibly be a grandparent because in their mind, they’re only 25 years old! This can be a painful moment, because this represent a loss in your relationship with them — and you want to hold on. But fighting these beliefs is futile. This video will show you how to gently move past the conversation.

Repeating themselves

Hearing the same story, especially if they think you’re hearing it for the first time, can get frustrating. The wrong response is trying to make them understand they’ve already told it. In this segment, we’ll show you how to get through the moment.

The important thing to remember is when a person has dementia or Alzheimer’s, the brain is going through massive changes. That can be difficult to take. Take a look at this video, What’s Happening to Their Brain?, so you can put yourself in their shoes. Understanding what’s at work can go a long way in good communication when your loved one has dementia.

Learn more about how we provide specialized care in our series “Insights from Arthur’s” featuring educational videos from Arthur’s Director of Development and Senior Care Consultant Deb Nygaard.