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How to Communicate With a Parent with Dementia

Knowing how to help a parent with Dementia can be mentally and emotionally challenging, understandably so. As the illness progresses, their communication abilities will gradually change as the illness progresses. You may find that as the condition worsens, you’ll have to initiate conversations to get them to communicate at all.

Still, it’s important to try to find ways to connect and communicate effectively with them despite these challenges. Whether you’re trying to have a casual conversation or need to discuss important decisions, these strategies can help establish a meaningful connection and improve communication with your parent — or at least help you make a bit of progress in the right direction.

What to Expect When Dealing with a Parent with Dementia

When learning how to deal with a parent with Dementia, it’s important to remember that each person with Dementia is unique; symptoms and progression of the condition often vary person-to-person. Another significant element to understand is Dementia is a progressive condition, meaning that it will get worse over time. Be prepared to experience (and watch them experience) frequent misunderstandings, uncertainty, and frustration. You’ll need to develop a deep reservoir of patience and communication abilities, including being a good listener and a clear, calm speaker.

Understanding Their Communication Style

Dementia patients may have trouble speaking correctly or recalling words. If you want to learn how to deal with a parent with Alzheimer’s or dementia, it helps to know what to expect from them.

Conversational patterns may include:

  • Describing an item as opposed to naming it

  • Repetition of sentences, stories, requests, or questions

  • Combining incongruous concepts or words

  • Finding it difficult to choose the perfect word

  • Confusing word substitutions

  • Losing flow of a thought

  • Using fewer words than needed

  • Returning to their first language

How to Help a Parent with Dementia with Communication

As you learn how to deal with a parent with Alzheimer’s or other situations of dementia, here are some ways you can find success:

Be Compassionate and Respectful.

While a person dealing with Dementia may struggle with their communication abilities, they are still an adult who deserves love and respect. As difficult as it may be sometimes, try to lead with compassion. Don’t belittle or discuss the individual in front of them as if they aren’t present.

Always be sure they know you heard them and invite them to elaborate on their response. If possible, encourage them to participate in conversations with others and allow them to speak up for themselves when topics related to their welfare or health are being discussed.

Refrain From Correcting Them.

You should also avoid correcting them. Instead, accept their comments at face value, even if they don’t address your question or if what they say seems out of place. Alternatively, you can try redirecting the conversation to a different topic.

Exercise Patience.

This may be easier said than done, but patience goes a long way when dealing with a parent with dementia. Give them time to speak without interruption while also taking the time to listen, even when it takes them a long time to communicate what’s on their mind.

Use Nonverbal Cues and Props.

Effective communication with someone with Dementia includes more than just verbal speech. When speaking, make eye contact and address the person by name. Talk while holding hands or find a way to use body language and facial expressions to help convey your meaning. Remember to pay attention to their nonverbal cues, too, and maintain a calm demeanor throughout.

Sometimes, using objects can help your parent understand what you are saying. For example, if you’re talking about music, try holding up the record you’re referring to. If they’re up for it, maybe put the record on and listen to it together to let the music communicate for you.

Avoid Open-Ended Questions.

Rather than leaving requests open-ended, help your loved one dealing with dementia by offering options. When making a request for something that a person could object to, provide options. For example, instead of asking “When do you want to shower tonight?” Ask instead, “Would you prefer to take a shower before or after dinner?”

Use Simple Language.

Ask questions that need a yes or no response as the illness worsens. Divide requests into manageable steps. Always speak slowly and clearly and stick to simple sentences. You may find yourself needing to rephrase questions, if necessary, especially if your loved one isn’t able to respond in the same way as they used to.

What Not to Say to a Parent with Dementia or Alzheimer’s

There are a few things you should avoid saying when dealing with a parent with Dementia. Here are a few things to avoid:

  • Arguments No one wins in this argument, and bickering with them is likely to upset both of you.

  • Correcting – It’s better to avoid challenging or correcting a Dementia patient if they make a mistake to help preserve their dignity. If they are vigilant enough, they will acknowledge their error and feel regret for it. Even if they are unaware of their mistake, correcting them could make them uncomfortable or make them feel embarrassed.

  • Asking if they remember certain things – This applies to years-old memories as well as something as recent as what they ate for lunch, or if they remember when you came to see them last week. A better way to phrase things would be, “The last time I visited, I remember we enjoyed eating candy together. Let’s have some today.”

Seek Support from Compassionate Professionals

You don’t have to figure out how to help a parent with Dementia on your own. The memory care professionals at Mitchell Hollingsworth are here to provide you with resources and guide you and your parent every step of the way. Our Dementia care wing is intentionally designed to support those living with cognitive issues. Reach out to us today for more information.




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