So, how does dementia impact language?

A person with any particular type of dementia can have problems with their language; this is because dementia can damage parts of the brain that control speech. One symptom known as “aphasia” includes losing the ability to speak or understand speech. Difficulties with language will develop depending on what stage the dementia is at, what type of dementia it is and how the individual’s language difficulties are managed. Sometimes, when a person is tired, unwell or in pain, their language will likely be impacted. Stress and anxiety also contribute; that’s why it’s so crucially important for a person diagnosed with dementia to have comfortable surroundings and a structured routine.

What difficulties do people with dementia have when communicating?

  • Not being able to find the right words.
  • Confusion/use words that have no meaning
  • Visual/hearing impairment
  • Not understanding what you have said
  • Lack of understanding/focus

How can dementia affect communication

Dementia can impact all communication elements; some may find it difficult to rationalise information; it’s also likely that those diagnosed with dementia will also have slight hearing/sight difficulties. Communication may be difficult, but it’s still highly encouraged. Fortunately, it’s a two-way process. It’s down to you as a carer or loved one to listen carefully, have patience and be aware of the complexity of your message.

How to improve your communication with a loved one

There are many simple things to consider when speaking to someone who has been diagnosed with dementia, everyone’s experience with dementia is completely unique; therefore, there is no one-size-fits-all advice. However, it’s still helpful to do your research.

Before you talk, make sure they’re comfortable

  • Ensure that your environment is as dementia-friendly as possible; this isn’t always easy, but having a quiet space with good lighting. Noisy and busy environments can act as a trigger point for increasing stress levels; furthermore, generally, it’s much easier to have a conversation with someone when there are no distractions.
  • Understand the best times of the day to communicate; no two people are the same; you may find that your loved one is much more talkative after a morning meal, as an example.
  • Have patience; some days are better than others, and that’s okay; you need time to adapt and understand.
  • Routine is beneficial; ensuring all needs are met before talking will likely lead to a better conversation with no distractions. Needs include basic care requirements; continence, meals, pain management etc.

Prepare yourself

  • Put yourself in their shoes, familiarise yourself more with their childhoods and think about topics that can help spark positive conversations.
  • If you can’t think of anything to talk about, don’t worry, just use their environment, perhaps there is something on the television or something in the newspaper that may be of interest.
  • Technology can be helpful, using a phone or table to show visual prompts such as images, videos etc., as talking points.
  • Make sure you have enough time planned; you don’t want this to feel rushed; this can cause unnecessary stress, which your loved one could pick up on.
  • A dementia diagnosis can be sad for everyone involved but try to be as positive as you can when approaching the conversation.

The best ways to communicate

Talking

  • Talk with a calm and clear tone.
  • Simplify the conversation. Use short and simple sentences but try not to talk condescendingly, maintain your respectfulness and be patient.
  • Talk to them as you would have previously, with an open-minded approach; you don’t want to ask question after question; communication is a 2-way process, so you want it to flow.
  • You’re welcome to include others in the conversation but make sure that you don’t talk about your loved one as though they aren’t in the room; excluding them can make them feel isolated and confused.
  • Patience is key, but if they’re feeling tired or unwell, then they may just need some rest.

Listening

  • Listen carefully; active listening is essential. These include nodding your head as they’re talking to show acknowledgement or remaining eye contact to show engagement.
  • Communication isn’t limited to vocal. Body language reflects emotions, which can give you a clear idea of how they may feel.
  • Try not to challenge what they have said; it’s best to go with the flow of the conversation. Correcting what they’ve said can cause frustration and confusion.
  • If they’re getting stuck with a particular topic, try to help and encourage them to finish.

Let’s keep talking!

Keep the conversation going. Good communication is an integral factor in living well after a dementia diagnosis. Communication is a significant part of how we function as human beings; this is no different for someone living with dementia.

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