Dementia: Communication Changes You Should Expect

Senior man sitting front of birthday cake and trying to remember how old is

Dementia affects the way aging adults communicate. Sometimes, your loved one would tell a story, only to trail off later because they can’t remember words. In other instances, they would ask you a question repeatedly even if you’ve just answered it minutes ago.

If you’ve been caring for a dementia patient for a while now, you know how frustrating it could be to hold a conversation with them. This, coupled with the daily grind of feeding, bathing and dressing them up, makes it harder to extend patience and empathy when communicating. What can help you in making changes less overwhelming is to be familiar with them exactly.

Early Stage

At the early stages of dementia, a patient can still engage in meaningful talks. But you can expect some lapses now and then. For instance, they may not find the right words to name things or finish sentences.

Sometimes, the environment plays a role here. When there are too many distractions in their surroundings, they can get overwhelmed and thrown off with what they’re telling you. So as much as you can, limit things that will stimulate them.

Do also note that they may scramble the sequence of a story they’re sharing. When this happens, resist the urge to correct them. The best thing to do is to listen. Smile, nod and ask questions.

Another change you can expect in this stage is repetitive questions. They’ll ask you where their glasses are over and over again, precisely because they’re unable to remember what you’ve just said. So, it’s best to keep their necessities in plain sight. But also note that repetitive statements may be coming from a need of reassurance, that their personal belongings are secure, that they themselves are safe.

Middle Stage

As the disease progresses, your loved one will struggle all the more at communicating. In the moderate stage of dementia, they will be increasingly confused when they have to process too many things from a conversation. So try not to talk fast. Slow down when asking them what they need or telling them about your day.

Discourage other loved ones to speak at the same time when you’re at a family dinner. Don’t use slang either. Don’t talk about abstract ideas. Don’t fill one sentence with too many directions of what to do.

elderly couple

What they need are simple words, in an unhurried pace. Your loved one may also not understand immediately what you say so you’d notice them pausing before talking. Let them take their time.

It’s also best to keep your questions answerable by yes or no to make decision-making easier for them. Instead of asking what they want to drink, ask them if they want tea. Simplify communication for your loved one. This is what therapists do in facilities offering memory care in Ogden.

Late Stage

At this point, your loved may only be able to speak only a few words a day. Sometimes, they’re not even words, just sounds. They may also only respond to sounds, touch, smells or sights. What you need to do here is to master the art of non-verbal communication.

You should be able to communicate through facial expressions and body language. A tap at the back to reassure them. A smile to encourage them. A nod to let them know that you understand them. At the same time, you must interpret the sounds they’re making as to what they’re feeling. This is the way you can better give the care they need.

It’s tough communicating with someone whose memory and reason are slowly slipping away. But throughout this journey, treat your aging relative with respect, dignity and empathy. That’s the bottom line principle in better, more meaningful communication with your loved one.