Communicating with a person with Dementia

When someone is living with dementia, although they can’t always communicate them in ways that we’re used to, they still experience feelings and emotions – sometimes more strongly.

The symptoms of dementia can provoke intense feelings of frustration, anger, sadness, fear or embarrassment, particularly if the person is struggling to understand their situation. This can also be very stressful for them.

When caring for someone with dementia, it’s important to understand that they may be experiencing something we can’t see. They may believe they are lost, or looking for something, feel that they need to be somewhere else, or that people they know are strangers. Although these scenarios are not real, they are very real to the person with dementia, and they may react very strongly to them. They might also struggle to explain their fears, as they may not have the language.

Communicating with people with dementia involves far more than language. Non-verbal communication – our gestures, facial expressions and touch – become very important. When we don’t understand someone’s behaviour, we have to look beyond the behaviour to the emotion behind it, and respond to that.

Our specialist dementia carers are trained to help our residents to communicate, and to communicate with them. They use a number of different techniques and strategies:

1. Listen and watch. This is vital to help us understand what might be going on. We need to give the person time to communicate in their own way, and encourage them. The more we know about them, the better we can understand them.

2. Being patient, kind and reassuring is vital. Patience will help us to work out what is happening for them, and to respond to it.

3. Body language is important, and we always respect their personal space. Standing too close, or above someone’s eye level can be intimidating.

4. Speaking. When we speak to our residents, we need to give them time to process, so we speak slowly, calmly and in short sentences.

5. Being positive – we don’t contradict them, or use controlling words. We let them know we’re there for them, and will do everything we can to help.

6. Keeping it simple. When asking a question, we try to ask one with a yes/no answer, or a simple choice between two things.

7. Distraction. Once someone knows we’re there to help, we can often distract them from what’s worrying them by offering them something else – like a drink, a walk or an activity.

One of the most important things we do is find out as much as we can about our residents’ life histories. The more we know about them, the better we will understand them.