Do you want to improve your communication with seniors with dementia? There are a number of tips that will make it easier to communicate with these elderly people with damaged memories. It makes little difference whether someone has Alzheimer’s or Vascular dementia or another disease. If you are a volunteer, the chance of recognition is small. Your chance is greater if you are someone you know: a child or partner of the elderly person with dementia or the permanent caregiver or therapist. The tips are about dealing with symptoms associated with dementia. Are you thinking about memory loss, living in the past and disorders of consciousness? To apply these communication tips, you do not have to be a therapist or take dementia training!
Communication with elderly people with dementia: a first contact
When making contact with an elderly person with dementia, you can take a number of factors into account. These are symptoms associated with diseases that cause dementia. It makes little difference whether it concerns Alzheimer’s, vascular dementia, Lewy Body syndrome or one of the many other diseases that can be the cause of dementia. You can pay attention to your pace, physical distance, approaching from the front, addressing and touching.
The pace at which you make contact and communicate
If you want to contact someone with dementia to communicate with him or her, take your time. Many elderly people with Alzheimer’s, for example, need more time than average and more than before to process new information. The stimuli or signals do come in, but it takes longer for these people to combine the new data they are confronted with and store it in their short-term memory. The stimuli they face when making contact are taking in the appearance of the person they are being approached by and the words with which they are being addressed. They must combine these facts into: Hey, Mrs.
Physical distance in communication
If you want to make contact, consciously keep some physical distance at first. You know what you’re up to. You may know, superficially or otherwise, the person with dementia. But the reverse is often not the case: the person in question does not know what you want and may not recognize you. After all, the memory of these seniors is almost always damaged to a greater or lesser extent. If you were to immediately approach someone and extend your hand, the elderly person with, for example, Parkinson’s or Fronto-temporal dementia could be startled. You may unintentionally catch him or her off guard. Keeping distance also gives him or her a little more time to search their memory and interpret the situation.
Approach from the front
Always approach a client or patient from the front. Then they can see who is approaching him and they can absorb the intention with which you do so. Making contact from the front reduces the chance of being startled and overwhelmed.Approaching someone in a wheelchair All this is extra important if someone is in a wheelchair. In a hurry, don’t make the mistake of approaching someone from behind, speaking to them and at the same time setting the wheelchair in motion. The person did not see you coming, he does not know that you want to do something with him. He cannot immediately match your words with your action.
Addressing the person with dementia
If you want to greet a person with dementia to have a conversation with him or to undertake an activity together, always address this person clearly. Use his or her name: then someone knows for sure that you are addressing them and not the person next to them. Speak clearly and calmly: many people with dementia are very elderly and therefore hearing impaired. Good volume and good articulation benefit contact and subsequent communication. Here too, the very elderly need time to absorb the information, your words.
Touching a client
Establishing contact may be difficult. Sometimes it helps to just touch someone. The physical contact then supports the verbal contact. But remember that you only touch someone after you have already spoken to him or her. Only touch someone in a neutral place: a shoulder, for example, or a hand. This applies even more to people from another culture. In the country they come from, different rules may apply to making physical contact.
The role of consciousness disorders and memory loss in establishing contact
Elderly people with dementia always have to deal with reduced memory functioning. This means that they have to search in their memory to find out who you are. People with dementia often live in the past. But you speak to them in the present and in your reality. When you address them, you are, as it were, calling them back from their past to your present. As a person’s dementia has progressed and the brain damage is more severe, establishing contact will become more difficult and will require more of you. The way of communicating will also change.Dementia can also be accompanied by disturbances of consciousness. This means that such a person is less or not aware of his or her environment and of those around them. So you can also take that into account. You do this by taking your time and, if necessary, repeating your words again calmly. You can usually see in their eyes whether you have contact or have reached the person with dementia. Once contact is established, they look directly at you.
You are a stranger
Realize every time that if someone is already quite far along in their disease process, you can be and remain a stranger to them. If you are a volunteer, the person with Alzheimer’s only met you late in life. That means you are not deeply absorbed in his or her memory. You may be a stranger every day. In a favorable case (for example, you come very often) you become a vaguely familiar face. This also applies to healthcare workers and therapists.
You are an informal caregiver
In case you are a good acquaintance, or a very good acquaintance from a long time ago, the process of getting acquainted will be easier and smoother. Especially if you are the life partner or a son or daughter. It is very painful, but you, as a good acquaintance, friend or family member, can also disappear from the memory of someone with dementia. Or you are confused with another family member, for example someone from a different generation who you resemble. In this situation the following applies: take your time. Give someone the opportunity to dig up your memory. Even if it is just as a familiar, sweet face or a warm voice.
Conclusion about making contact with people with dementia
If you want to make contact with someone suffering from dementia, always give him or her plenty of time to discuss this. Always approach someone from the front. You can take into account the physical distance, the way of addressing and possibly touching. It is in both your interests that contact is established in a positive manner. This makes subsequent communication easier. Not only a therapist can do this, but also you as an informal caregiver or volunteer!
- Communicating with people with dementia via the CRDL
- Dementia & communication: open, closed, leading questions
- Stimulating memory in dementia by reading fairy tales
- Reminiscing/reminiscing in dementia: reasons
- Reminiscence in dementia: stimulate all senses