Well, does it?
Generally, dementia will have an effect on every person with though diagnosis. This can present the form of in repetition, forgetting words, becoming confused in an everyday interaction, inability to follow a train of thought or plot, offensive or child-like language and overall difficulty in speaking.
Although it is important to remember that this is more often than not a gradual change, which means that having an understanding of how the condition does impact dementia can help you to adjust as your loved one’s communication skills may change. Maintaining communication with them is vital to their quality of life and independence, so it is really worth being patient and understanding the right approach, even though it might be a hard part of the journey.
Other aspects of a dementia diagnosis may also weigh into one’s ability to communicate, such as a change in other senses such as sight and hearing. This can be hard to distinguish but is important to keep track of and adapt accordingly.
Most commonly, those with dementia could struggle to successfully communicate as they cannot make sense of their thoughts or are confused at how to articulate themselves. The dementia impacts one’s ability to apply rationale and can make the clearest of concepts seem incredibly confusing. It is vital to be mindful of that, especially as their struggles will cause an immense amount of frustration for them. Any negative response to that struggle will exacerbate matters, knocking their confidence, which creates an environment in which it is even harder for them to communicate clearly.
In technical terms, the condition affects the part of the brain’s left temporal lobe where vital words such as nouns are stored when initially learnt in adolescence. Other formal aspects of language are likely to become compromised over time, and the challenge that verbal communication involves could be too much for your loved one to manage. One common response to this is for someone with dementia to become less verbal in general, remaining quiet for much of their days. The unaffected other side of one’s brain will likely enable your loved one to take part in more basic communicative practices, such as simple conversation and rhythm.
What can you do with your words?
- Start conversations
- Use short and slow sentences
- Give them time to speak, encouraging them subtly
- Clearly show acknowledgement of what they have said
- Keep offerings and options to a minimum and as simple as can be
- Happily and calmly rephrase your sentence if needed
- Ensure to speak with a friendly and warm tone
What can you do without words?
- Maintain gentle eye contact
- Stay calm and with calm facial expressions
- Do not stand over them or in a position that could be threatening
- Keep a natural amount of distance if appropriate
- Read their body language
- Avoid interrupting them at any time
- Try not to multitask, or allow other distractions whilst in conversation
What extra habits can you introduce?
- Reassure by discussing things that you know your loved one enjoys and knows about
- Accompany your words with a mime, such as miming a sip when offering a cup of tea
- Routinely check in on if your approach is up to date with their diagnosis
- Take a moment to yourself when their communication affects you negatively
- Do not attempt to enter conversation with them when they can’t see you
- Stick to one topic of conversation at a time
Overall, the changes that a dementia diagnosis can have on one’s communication skills might feel daunting, but this transition is manageable with subtle adjustments and an eye on any developments in their communicative efforts.
Remember to take note of other contributing details to what they are trying to say, such as their movement, and persevere until you understand the meaning of what they are saying.