Spending time with the person you love should be easy. After all, you’ve known them for years, you used to share a cup of tea and a chat together in perfect comfort.
Since their dementia diagnosis, everything may have become harder. Conversations can dry up, you might struggle to find things to talk about and you may be walking on eggshells trying not to say things that will upset them. You may wonder how to communicate with someone with dementia. This is all perfectly normal and can be overcome.
Good conversations and communicating with someone with dementia are still possible, although you might need to work a little harder to get them to happen. Here are seven tips for talking to someone living with dementia.
1. Choose the right time to talk
When the TV is blaring, people are rushing around, or your loved one’s attention is on what’s happening outside the window, the chances of a good conversation are slim. Set the scene for a good conversation by removing noise and distractions and getting their full attention before you start.
2. Don’t be afraid
If you’re worried or scared about how the conversation will go, your body language will shout it out. Even if you are feeling apprehensive, work hard on developing positive, open body language to help them feel comfortable in your presence.
3. Try not to over-complicate things
Asking an open question such as ‘what do you want to eat for lunch’ might not seem over complicated, but to someone living with dementia who is suddenly faced with all the choices in the world, it can be terrifying. Instead, try offering a ‘this or that’ scenario, such as “would you like a ham sandwich or soup?”
4. Keep patient
Talking to someone living with dementia can be frustrating, but you need to take a breath and step back. The conversation may well go on for longer than you expected, but that doesn’t mean you should try to finish their sentences for them or hurry them along. Smile, relax and just listen.
5. Keep emotions in check
Coming to terms with a dementia diagnosis, particularly as the condition progresses, is hard for everyone involved. If they don’t recognise you, accuse you of doing something terrible or otherwise say something hurtful, it can be difficult to put your feelings aside. But put them aside you must, because it is the disease talking, not your loved one, and being cross with them will only make things worse.
6. Try and stick to a routine
People living with dementia feel more comfortable when they can stick to a familiar routine, so arriving out of the blue at an unusual time is a recipe for disaster. Talk to caregivers about when would be a good time, and if they experience sundowning, try to avoid visiting in the evening.
7. Embrace the quiet times
Sometimes we feel the need to fill every moment with inane chatter, but when you’re visiting a person living with dementia, constant talking can be confusing and worrying. If it goes quiet, learn to love the silence and just being in their company. If you feel uncomfortable, try putting on some of their favourite music, and maybe you’ll both relax a little.
Don’t be afraid to visit your loved one who is living with dementia, communication is still very important. They are still the person you know and love inside, and even if they can’t express themselves in the way they used to, having you nearby will be a warm comfort to them. If you require any further support with communicating to your loved ones, talk to our caregivers for more advice on how to talk to them more comfortably.