Tips for better communication
Dementia is a complex condition and every person’s experience is different. However, many people living with dementia can face similar challenges with communication.
Often the small changes we make in our approach can make a big difference in avoiding communication difficulties or frustration, and can help build and maintain good relationships.
Understanding the challenges a person living with dementia may face with communication
The challenges may include:
- Difficulty pronouncing or finding the right words
- Problems following a conversation, especially in a noisy environment
- Difficulty understanding humour or sarcasm
- Difficulty recognising other people’s emotions or behaviours
- Repetition due to reduced concentration or memory problems
- Tiredness or ill health which may cause a fluctuation in concentration and communication abilities
- Stress caused by trying to make sense of the environment, situations and other people
- If communication gets hard, we’re on hand with the skills and techniques to help families stay connected to the person they love
- If someone with dementia is showing signs of fear or distress, we’ll work with families to find the best ways of preventing or managing this
- If families are struggling to cope, we’ll be there to help them get their loved one the best possible care
- If families have questions they can’t get answered, we’ll take the time to really understand the problem, and give them the support they need to tackle it.
Good communication skills to learn
We communicate a lot through our body language, facial expressions, and tone of voice. If we seem positive, cheerful and confident, we bring a sense of hope and reassurance to the conversation, and conversely if we appear resentful or unhappy, we can bring a sense of gloom. You could try:
- Stopping what you’re doing and focusing on the person
- Limiting distractions
- Saying their name when talking to them
- Being specific; try not to use pronouns such as he or she, use a person’s name instead
- Touching the person’s arm, if they feel comfortable with this
- Speaking slowly, clearly and in short sentences
- Listening carefully with empathy and understanding
- Giving the person plenty of time to answer
- Maintaining appropriate eye contact
- Using gestures to act out what you’re saying e.g. miming drinking a cup of tea or putting on your shoes
- Using pictures to illustrate what you’re saying e.g. an image of a car or a photo of where you are going
- Using simple and straightforward language
- Avoiding too many open-ended questions or offering too many choices
If a diagnosis of dementia is given, the GP should then ensure that the person with the diagnosis and their family are made aware of any specialist advice and support services in their area, as well as referring them for further assessments and treatments that may help. This support can come from a range of organisations, including health and social care professionals, charities, and the voluntary sector.
Communication is complex and the enclosed suggestions may work with some people but not with others. People living with dementia can often understand far more than they can express, so always involve them in communication, using some of our hints and tips. If there is a sudden change and the person living with dementia does seem more irritable and confused than before, visit the GP to find out whether there is a reason for this e.g. infection, constipation, dehydration and physical ill health, which can all be treated.