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Connecting with Seniors Who Have Dementia: 7 Caregiving Tips

June 22, 2016

 

 

It is painful to witness the deterioration of a loved one suffering from dementia. It’s easy to feel disconnected since dementia changes the patient while we stay the same. Although it’s difficult, just remember the person you love and have a history with is still in there, and it’s possible to make a meaningful connection if you know how to communicate with them.
 
Dementia, most commonly known as Alzheimer’s disease, is a progressive biological brain disorder which makes it challenging for the person to remember things, to think clearly, to communicate effectively, and to take care of themselves. Dementia primarily affects seniors. People with dementia can have mood swings, and their personality and behavior can change. In order to better connect with someone who has dementia, improve the way you communicate with him or her.
 

Tips to Connect with Seniors Who Have Dementia
 
When someone has dementia, they find it difficult to concentrate and to understand lots of words. Whether you’re a relative, friend, or a caregiver providing home care services, try to make conversations with them easier and help them to have a life that’s as normal as possible.
 

1.    Get and Keep Their Attention
 
Before you speak with someone who has dementia or ask them a question, make sure you have their attention first. Limit distractions and noise in the room; turn off the radio or TV, shut the door, or move to a quieter area. If they sit, get on your knees to get to their eye level. Make sure they focus on you before you start to speak. Address them by their name and introduce yourself, such as, “Hi, Grandma, I’m your granddaughter Sally”. Using names will help seniors who have dementia concentrate better as they don’t need to try and figure out who you are.
 

2.    State Your Message Clearly
 
Use simple words and sentences and only ask one thing at a time. Seniors who have dementia cannot follow a long conversation, so break it down. Speak slowly and in a warm and calm voice. Repeat or rephrase if they don’t understand the first time. If they need to make a choice, show them the different options where possible, such as when they need to choose an outfit. Be patient and wait for their reply.
 

3.    Break Activities down into Smaller Steps
 
Breaking down tasks into steps will make caregiving more manageable. For instance, instead of telling a senior who has dementia to get ready to go out, first ask them to brush their teeth. When that’s done, ask them to get dressed. And when that’s done you can ask them to comb their hair. Gently remind them of the steps along the way or show them how to do it if they forget.
 

4.    Be Affectionate and Reassuring
 
Your attitude and body language communicate your thoughts and feelings. If you get agitated, they’ll notice, and it will make them upset, which is particularly stressful for seniors who have dementia. Always speak in a pleasant and respectful manner and use facial expressions, tone of voice, and physical touch to make the seniors in your care feel comfortable.
 
Never try to correct someone with dementia if they are a bit fuzzy on the facts. Remember that their perception of reality is different, so let delusions and misstatements go. Just listen what they have to say; you may find that they’re trying to communicate a feeling or concern to you. If they get upset, distract them by changing the subject or the environment, such as going for a walk.
 

5.    Take a Trip down Memory Lane
 
Often, seniors with dementia can’t remember things that happened in the short-term, but their long-term memories are still intact. For example, don’t ask them what they ate half an hour ago, rather ask them about an incident that happened half a century ago. Use photos or meaningful items such as a wedding ring to jog their memory. Talking about the past may quickly fill up the conversation, and they’ll enjoy talking about the good old days.
 

6.    Do a Project or Task Together
 
Doing a project or task together is a great way to help people in your care feel useful. Projects can be enjoyable for both of you, and you can spend time together without having to try and keep a conversation going. Try activities like knitting, baking cookies, gardening, or building a puzzle.
 
You can also play a games, such as bridge, dominoes, or tossing a ball. Exercise is a very beneficial activity, too, and can be as simple as going for a walk in the park.
 

7.    Handling Challenging Behavior
 
No matter how well you manage to communicate with someone who has dementia or how hard you work to keep your relationship intact, there will be days when dementia will take over, and their behavior becomes difficult. Dementia can wipe memories, cause hallucinations, and make seniors act in a way that is morally and socially unacceptable. Don’t blame the person or get upset with their behavior – they can’t help acting this way.
 
Instead of taking their behavior personally, rather try to understand the reason behind their behavior and remember to avoid the triggers next time. Stay calm, listen to what they have to say even if it is illogical, and don’t try to convince them that they are wrong or unwell. Reassure them that everything is alright by listening to their concerns, speak softly and slowly, hold their hands, and try to distract them from their worries by giving them a task to do or taking them for a stroll.
 

Prepare for Ups and Downs
 
Always remember that there will be good days and bad days. The condition of a senior who has dementia will decline over time, but some days they’ll have more clarity than others and sometimes their mood will be better than other days.
 
Don’t be afraid to reach out when you have difficulties connecting with your loved ones suffering from dementia. No one expects you to always get it right. Just pick up the phone and talk to one of our experienced staff when you need help or encouragement. The senior care staff of Alegre Home Care are always happy to help.
 
 

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