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  • Writer's pictureBarbara Huelat

Words of Love: Speaking the Dementia Language

Do you ever notice that your loved one seems lost in thought when you ask them something? Or do they sometimes keep doing something even after you've asked them to stop? It's moments like these that can leave us feeling like we're speaking different languages. If you're caring for someone with dementia, you might recognize these communication challenges all too well. But don't lose hope – there are ways to bridge this gap and connect in a meaningful way.

Think of communication skills as the treasure chest of our experiences and knowledge, stored in what's called Semantic Memory. For those with dementia, this treasure chest becomes harder to access. Their ability to interpret words, follow complex sentences, or even notice non-verbal cues diminishes. It's like the fog of dementia clouds their ability to understand, leaving both of you feeling disconnected.

Yet, it's crucial not to give up on communication. In fact, your loved one still yearns to connect, but the familiar pathways have become a bit overgrown. As caregivers, we're tasked with carving new paths, learning a language that speaks to their reality.

It might feel overwhelming at first. Frustration might creep in, and patience might wear thin. Communication, as a social glue, can sometimes trigger behaviors that add stress to both of your lives. For instance, a simple question like "Are you hungry?" might not yield the expected response. They might crave breakfast but struggle to express it, leading to confusion and possible rejection of the meal.

But here's the silver lining: mastering this new way of communicating significantly reduces stress and minimizes triggers for meltdowns. It can transform your caregiving journey into a more enriching and compassionate experience.

Here are some heartfelt suggestions on how to navigate communication with someone living with dementia:

  • Understand the Journey: Educate yourself about dementia and how it affects their ability to comprehend and respond.

  • Keep It Simple: Stick to short, clear sentences and uncomplicated questions.

  • Stay Engaged: Continuously converse, narrate activities, and use simple language. For instance, before a meal, remind them it's breakfast time and chat about the food with enthusiasm.

  • Speak Beyond Words: Use gestures, smiles, and gentle touches to convey meaning and create a positive atmosphere.

  • Redirect with Statements: Reframe inquiries into affirmations to avoid confusion or anxiety.

  • Avoid Arguments: Refrain from correcting their statements; instead, redirect conversations to more positive topics.

  • Embrace Positive Distractions: Use joyful moments or favorite topics to shift focus during challenging communication.

  • Adjust Expectations: Accept that communication hiccups are part of their journey and learn strategies to manage without frustration.

  • Invoke Emotions: Music or shared memories can be powerful tools to foster connection.

Remember, mistakes might happen, but kindness and patience will guide you through. These moments are an opportunity to strengthen your bond and create cherished memories.

Learning to communicate in this new way isn't just about reducing stress; it's about enriching your moments together. For further guidance and deeper insights into caregiving, explore my book, "Taming the Chaos of Dementia."

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