Best way to communicate with those with dementia

Have you noticed how hard it is to redirect a person with dementia? As you fill your need to correct them, the argument is getting louder. And the more you try to convince them that what they are saying is wrong, the louder the argument becomes and the more they believe they are right. What should you do? You should stop what you are saying and take a deep breathe!

One of the foremost rules of speaking with those with dementia is to remember you will never win an argument. No matter how bizarre what they are saying is, in their minds, they are correct and nothing you say will make a difference. What is suggested is that you validate what is being said. If the person is insisting that they had turkey for lunch and they actually had bologna, respond with “I am sure that turkey was delicious.”

A common question I receive is: how does one respond when the person is looking for their mother who passed away 20 years prior? In certain stages of dementia, they are not necessarily looking for the mother, the person, but the feeling that she gave to this person of comfort and safety. Saying that, the worst answer would be the one where they are told mother died 20 years ago. Can you imagine how frightened that person would be? A better response would be, mother is at work and will be home after 5 p.m. Or if they are looking for their children, go to where they are in their mind and say the children are at school and her mother will be meeting them at the house when they get home. Imagine how frightful it would be if you tried to reorient them that their children are adults and are at work. Her brain age at this time could be in her 20s.

Some people have lived through horrible times and in their stage of dementia may be reliving it again. The best response is to keep validating they are in a safe place and nothing bad will ever happen to them again.

It is very hard to communicate with a loved one with dementia. What works one hour doesn’t necessarily work the next. Caregivers have to be flexible. Keep trying. The important thing to remember is to maintain dignity and not to make the person feel badly.

There is a great book called “Learning to Speak Alzheimer’s.” The author is Joanne Coste. I highly recommend it on best ways to communicate with people with dementia.

Peggy Dorson Abbott is certified as a gerontological nurse practitioner and an adult mental health nurse practitioner. She has been working with older adults for over 20 years and has advanced knowledge in treatment of dementia. She provides numerous seminars throughout New Hampshire for caregivers on communication with loved ones with dementia. She lives in Peterborough with her husband, Raymond.

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