In this, the second in a three-part series based on information provided by the Associação Alzheimer’s Portugal, we look at the fundamental importance of communication between those with dementia and those closest to them.
Due to the gradual progression of dementia, communication problems can arise and lead to frustration, confusion and sometimes even anger.
The needs and desires of the person with dementia may not be satisfied and their behaviour may be misunderstood by others. Those with dementia may begin to feel more isolated. Failure to communicate properly can cause them embarrassment, especially if those close to them draw attention to their mistakes.
It’s not uncommon for people with dementia to start using a less complex style of language. They may use shorter sentences or a limited vocabulary. They may talk less and ultimately not talk at all.
Some ways to make verbal communication easier:
▪ Try to have a positive attitude.
▪ Sit facing the person with dementia and try to encourage them to talk.
▪ Try to understand the feeling they express.
▪ Avoid drawing too much attention to their shortcomings.
▪ Give your support.
▪ Adapt your language style and tone of voice without sounding artificial.
▪ Make sure there are no physical problems affecting communication, such as a lack of hearing or sight.
▪ Ask closed questions and give only two options (e.g. instead of, “What shirt do you want to wear?”, use “Do you want to wear this shirt or this one?”)
▪ Give only short, objective instructions at a time.
Non-verbal communication and physical contact
As verbal communication becomes more difficult, it may be easier to switch to non-verbal communication, focusing on tone of voice, eye contact, facial expression, posture, sign language and physical contact.
If using non-verbal communication when talking to the person with dementia:
▪ Always try to communicate at the person’s eye level.
▪ Try to maintain eye contact.
▪ Make sure you are not giving confusing messages.
▪ Try to understand the body language of the person with dementia.
▪ Transmit security and support through physical contact such as touching hands.
Keep in mind that as the illness progresses, many skills are lost and some are maintained. The person with dementia may still preserve their sense of touch and hearing, as well as their ability to respond to emotion.
It’s important for a person with dementia to have something to occupy them so that their brain is stimulated. This also helps to control some symptoms of the disease, such as agitation.
It’s also important that those with dementia, accompanied by their nearest and dearest, should be regularly checked by their specialist doctor who could be a neurologist or a psychiatrist. The medications prescribed by specialists can help to control the symptoms of the disease and slow its progress.
By Len Port
Len Port is a journalist and author based in the Algarve. Follow Len’s reflections on current affairs in Portugal on his blog: algarvenewswatch.blogspot.pt