Dementia is a disease that gradually diminishes a person’s ability to communicate. As dementia progresses, communication becomes more challenging. However, there are strategies that can help both you and your loved one with dementia understand each other better. With patience, understanding, and good listening skills, meaningful communication is possible throughout the stages of the disease.
Changes in Communication
As dementia advances, you may notice:
- Difficulty finding the right words
- Repeating familiar words
- Describing objects rather than naming them
- Losing train of thought easily
- Trouble organizing words logically
- Reverting to speaking a native language
- Speaking less often
- Relying more on gestures than speaking
Communication in Early Stage
In early stage dementia, the individual can still engage in conversation and social activities, but may:
- Repeat stories
- Feel overwhelmed by too much stimulation
- Struggle to find the right word
- Speak directly to the person, not their caregiver
- Actively listen and allow time to respond
- Discuss their preferred communication methods
- Don’t exclude them from conversations
Communication in Middle Stage
As dementia progresses to the middle stage, communication becomes more difficult. Tips:
- Hold one-on-one conversations in a quiet location.
- Slowly and clearly speak
- Make eye contact.
- Give yourself plenty of time to respond.
- Be patient and reassuring.
- Ask a single question at a time.
- Provide detailed, step-by-step instructions for tasks.
- Make use of visual cues to encourage participation.
Communication in Late Stage
In late-stage dementia, the individual relies heavily on nonverbal communication like facial expressions and vocal sounds. Around-the-clock care is usually required. Tips:
- Make eye contact and speak gently
- Listen closely to vocalizations
- Use touch to convey affection and reassurance
- Play the person’s favourite music
- Keep communication positive and avoid correcting
- Adjust your communication as needed to adapt to the person’s reality
Dementia presents unique communication challenges. But focusing on the person’s remaining abilities, meeting them where they’re at, and creatively finding new ways to connect can make a meaningful difference in their quality of life. With compassion and creativity, communication is possible at every stage of the journey.