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Communicating Tips

Communication is one of the first casualties of dementia. Because dementia affects memory, people with dementia have difficulty following the thread of a conversation, because they often don’t remember what was said just minutes before. They may think they’re living in a different time or place and speak from this new reality.

The best thing you can do is to validate their new reality. For example, if they say, “President Eisenhower is doing a great job,” you’re response could be “I like Ike too.” By using validation and entering into their reality, you will help them feel safe. If you try to correct the person to bring them back to the present, it can cause them frustration, shock and disbelief, which can lead to behavior problems.

Validation is most successful when you:

  • Enter their reality and reminisce with them.
  • Make sure your verbal and nonverbal messages are the same.
  • Ask open-ended questions such as “Who was your favorite childhood teacher?” or “How did you meet your husband?”
  • Match their motions and emotions. If someone is upset, telling them that everything is okay is not going to make it better. In fact, it may cause more agitation. Instead, enter their reality.

Any communication you have with someone who has dementia will be enhanced by following these simple rules:

  • Identify yourself as you approach and get their attention before you touch them.
  • Use your loved one’s preferred name.
  • Make eye contact.
  • Use encouragement and reassurance.
  • Speak slowly.

The best advice when talking with someone who has dementia is to be patient and supportive – not only with the person with dementia, but with yourself. It’s not easy to know how to respond or what to do. Keep an open mind and an open heart – compassion goes a long way in helping both of you have more meaningful interaction.

All Caregiver Resource Center staff conversations are confidential.

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