Knowing how to communicate with a person with dementia isn't a thing that comes naturally but, we can learn. Improving the way you spend time with the person with dementia and the way you communicate with them will help both your relationship with them and make your times together less stressful and improve the quality of your relationship. Good communication skills will also enhance your ability to handle any difficult behaviour you may encounter and will help you support them to live well and stay connected into your church.
1. Start in a positive place. Your attitude and body language communicate your feelings and thoughts more strongly than your words do. Set a positive mood by speaking in a pleasant and respectful manner. Use facial expressions, tone of voice, and physical touch to help convey your message and show how supportive you are.
2. Limit distractions and noise—turn off any background noise such as the radio or TV, don't meet in a busy place where there are distractions and shut the door, or move to quieter surroundings. Before you begin to speak,
- make sure you have their attention;
- address them by their name,
- identify yourself by name and relation, and
- use nonverbal cues and touch to help keep them focused.
- If they are seated, get down on their level and maintain eye contact.
3. Be clear. Use simple words and sentences. Speak slowly, distinctly, and in a reassuring tone and don't raise your voice if you are getting frustrated. If you find that they don't understand the first time just try again using the same words. Remember its not you who is important but the person with dementia and if they don't understand take stock and maybe after a few minutes try and rephrase the question. Always try and use the names of people and places as they may trigger memories.
4. Keep any Questions simple. Ask one question at a time; those with yes or no answers or clear options.
For example, ask, “Would you like a cup of tea or a cup of coffee?"
If possible show them the choices—visual prompts and cues also help clarify your question and can guide their response.
5. Listen with your ears, eyes, and heart. Don't rush them. Be patient and wait for a reply. If the person with dementia is struggling for an answer, it’s okay to suggest words. Watch for nonverbal cues and body language, and respond appropriately. Always strive to listen for the meaning and feelings that underlie the words.
6. Step by step. If you are trying to do an activity with someone living with dementia try and break it down. This makes many tasks much more manageable. You can encourage them to do what they can, gently reminding them of the steps, and assist with any steps they are no longer able to accomplish on their own. Visual cues, such as showing with your hand how to pick up a jug to pour milk into a cup for a cup of tea, can be very helpful.
7. Distract and redirect. If the person with dementia begins to become upset or agitated, try changing the subject or the environment. For example, maybe ask them if they need the toilet or suggest going to another room in the building (maybe the kitchen to make a drink). It's important to connect with the person on a feeling level, before you redirect. You might say, “I see you’re feeling sad—I’m sorry you’re upset. Shall we go and get a drink?.”
8. Reassure. People with dementia often feel confused, anxious, and unsure of themselves. Furthermore, they often get reality confused and may recall things that never really occurred. This is their reality so try and avoid trying to convince them that they are wrong. Firstly they won't believe you and secondly it is likely to cause them to become agitated or distressed.
Stay focused on the feelings they are demonstrating (which are real) and respond with verbal and physical expressions of comfort, support, and reassurance. Sometimes holding hands if appropriate, hugging, and praise will hopefully get the person to respond.
9. Remember the past. Remembering the past is often a soothing and affirming activity. Many people with dementia may not remember what happened half an hour ago, but they will be able remember what happened many years earlier. Therefore, try to avoid asking questions that they will need to rely on their short term memory to answer, such as asking the person what they had for breakfast. Instead, try asking general questions about the person’s past as it is more likely that they will have remembered more from this time.
10. Remember to smile and laugh. People with dementia tend to retain their social skills and are usually delighted to have an opportunity to laugh along with you. Don't make fun of them but don't be scared to tell funny stories
Remember your interaction may not be remembered but how you leave a person feeling will last a lot longer. Its not about you its about leaving the person with dementia knowing that God loves them and that they are safe and welcome in His arms