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Tips for better communication with a person living with dementia

Introduction Dementia is a complex condition and every person’s experience is different. However, many people living with dementia do 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 also help build and maintain good relationships.

Understanding the challenges a person living with dementia may face with communication The challenges may include:

  • Tiredness or ill health which may cause a fluctuation in concentration and communication abilities

  • Difficulty pronouncing or finding the right words due to changes in the brain

  • Difficulty following a conversation, especially in a busy environment

  • Difficulty understanding humour or sarcasm

  • Difficulty recognising other people’s emotions

  • Repetition due to reduced concentration or memory problems

  • Increased stress in trying to process information or make sense of things which can lead to further confusion

Good communication skills to learn We communicate a lot through our body language, facial expressions, and tone of voice. If we appear to be positive, cheerful and confident, we can 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 Cut down on distractions Saying their name Touching the person’s arm, if they feel comfortable with this Smiling 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 or illustrate the meaning of what you’re saying (e.g. miming drinking a cup of tea, or using photographs to explain) Using simple and straightforward language Being specific; try not to use pronouns such as he or she, use a person’s name instead Avoiding using too many open-ended questions or offering too many choices

Common communication types and how you can help You may notice that the person may be more confused, restless and disorientated at certain times in the day. This could be the lead up to them becoming more distressed and upset. It’s useful to anticipate when you see small changes in behaviour so that you can intervene early. e.g. with activities and distraction techniques, which may reduce the escalation of stressed behaviour.

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Communication is complex and the enclosed suggestions may work with some people but not with others. Always remember that people living with dementia can often understand far more than they can express, so always involve them in communication, and try out 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, it may require a visit to 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.

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