Dementia is a devastating disease for not only the person affected but family members, caregivers, and society itself. Most of us have been touched one way or another by this disease. As in life, when interacting with family or friends with dementia, the key for a meaningful interaction is great communication. Though dementia can make accomplishing that significantly more difficult, there are many things we can do to help.
With dementia, it is important to use a person-centered approach. This means individualizing your interactions and communications to the person you are speaking with. When interacting, it is imperative to approach the person from the front, go to their level if sitting and give them eye contact. In my experience, reading their eyes can give you more information than words themselves. In a way, you have to become a detective through listening and observation. Be sure to keep a calm and soothing tone and use non-aggressive body language. People with dementia respond to the same nonverbal cues as you and me, and maybe even more so.
It is also important to speak slowly and clearly while asking one question at a time. It is frustrating to a person with dementia when you overwhelm them with questions or begin to talk at them rather than to them. Many people with dementia will hallucinate or remember things differently than how they actually occurred. Nothing is more frustrating than having someone say you are wrong or how you feel does not matter. It is important to validate their feelings, including living in their world whether or not their perception is accurate.
Lastly, when communicating, do not be afraid to use pictures or gestures to get your point across. Dementia can cause scrambled words and meanings, so pictures can help clarify what point you’re trying to make. Remember to treat those affected by dementia with respect and dignity. Above all, remember they are still your loved ones, still your friends and still just like you and me.