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Effective communication

Dementia advice

Dementia experts at Care UK have put together some tips to help you communicate effectively with your loved one

Try not to take any changes in behaviour personally. Your loved one can’t help the way they are behaving so you certainly can’t either.

Try not to overreact. Anger might seem really extreme to you but it’s probably just your loved one trying to make their point physically, as they can no longer express themselves easily in words. A banged table might just be a way of showing slight impatience or frustration.

Stay calm. This isn’t the time to try and convince your loved one that you are a close relative; that they are imagining things; that they are unwell. 

Listen to them. Look them in the eyes; ask them closed questions to understand their concerns; lead them to a quiet place; hold their hands; speak slowly and softly; nod as they speak; take their complaints seriously, even if they have no logic; give them a task to do to distract them from their worries. Do whatever you can to reassure your loved one that everything is alright.

Validate their feelings. Validation techniques are something that professional carers use to cope with difficult conversations.

Examples of effective communication:

 

If a lady in our care is looking for her husband, who died several years ago, we don’t tell her that he is dead. That would just reignite the grieving process. Instead, we ask her to tell us about her husband. We ask, “What was his name?”, “How did you meet?”, “Did you have any children?”, “Where did you get married?” It can help to distract from the anxiety of feeling alone, it can help to bring back memories and it can evoke moments of lucidity.

A Care UK Home Manager
 

If your loved one wants to go home and that is not possible, ask them questions about their home - “How many bedrooms did your house have?”, “Did you have a garden?”, “Who were your neighbours?” They will be able to answer these questions and, in doing so, will bring back some very happy memories. Compare this to “Don’t be silly – this is your home now. You have to stay here.” One causes anger and upset, the other peace and calm.

A Care UK Home Manager

How is effective communication used at Care UK? 

Our colleagues are trained to communicate effectively with residents by staying calm, asking clear questions to avoid confusion, and distracting a resident from distressing thoughts when necessary. Body language is also important, as people living with dementia will read faces for clues. 

Our carers understand that people living with dementia see the world differently, but it’s important to accept what they say as true and meet them where – and when – they are. 

By using these effective communication skills, carers can calm residents who become distressed and help them communicate their wishes and needs so that they can continue to live meaningful lives. 

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Frequently asked questions

You will likely have to change your communication style to speak with someone living with dementia. For instance, use straightforward language, express one idea at a time and remember to listen. Discover more tips in our free guide, Listen, talk, connect.

Your loved one’s way of communicating can change throughout the progression of their dementia. In the early stages they may repeat themselves, but as their condition progresses, they may struggle even more to get their message across. Listen carefully for a meaning behind their words or actions. Find out about ways to communicate beyond language in Listen, talk, connect, our free guide.

Improving ways of communicating with someone living with dementia can be beneficial to both parties. Conversations can stir up lost memories, reduce agitation and help you reconnect with a loved one.

People often say they don’t know how to speak with someone living with dementia, but there are endless ways to spark a conversation. Our colleagues have shared their expert tips for communication – whether for a nervous visitor who wants to communicate with their loved one or a carer who needs to make themselves understood to someone who is easily confused – in our free guide, Listen, talk, connect.