Grandfather playing with his grandson.

Even in strong relationships communication is difficult, but when you add in a behavior altering condition like dementia it may seem nearly impossible. You and your loved one both become frustrated, and may struggle knowing how to keep the bond you’ve always had. So, how do you communicate in an effective, compassionate way? While every situation is different and will require sensitivity, here are a few general tips that can help:

1. Eliminate Distractions

Seniors who suffer from dementia have a hard time focusing on conversation. Before speaking, make sure you have their attention; address them by their name, make eye contact, and use positive body language to set the conversation up for success. Turn off the TV, shut the blinds, or go to a quiet place to help them to concentrate and to ensure effective communication.

2. Be Patient and Offer Comfort

Be patient with and offer comfort to your loved ones when they are struggling to express their thoughts. If you can tell they are struggling, allow them to take their time. Forcing them to express their mind will only frustrate the situation and slow down communication. As you approach them with patience and understanding, you will allow for positive interactions and create a better experience for both of you.

3. Ask Simple Questions

Seniors who suffer from dementia can remember what happened 45 years ago; however, they will struggle remembering what happened 45 seconds ago. If you ask them what they did that day or where they want to go to dinner, it may be difficult for them to remember and often times these exchanges only end in frustration. Refraining from open-ended questions will eliminate confusion and simplify the conversation. Often “yes” or “no” type questions are the way to go. (E.g., Instead of asking “What do you want to wear today?” provide them with two options to choose from.)

Difficulties with communication can be discouraging for caregivers, family members, and especially for the person suffering from dementia. By understanding your loved ones and their mood, you will gradually learn which communication methods work best for your situation, and you’ll have more success in keeping a strong relationship with them.