Many of the 50 million people living with dementia currently experience or will eventually develop difficulty communicating thoughts and emotions. Those with progressive dementia, such as Alzheimer’s disease or Lewy Body Dementia, may show signs of decreased ability to communicate once they enter the mid-to-late stages of the disease. A breakdown in communication can be frustrating and even frightening for those with dementia and their care partners, so it’s helpful to find tools and strategies to strengthen this skill. Here, we give tips to help care partners improve communication with individuals with dementia.
How to Identify the Early Signs of Deteriorating Communication
The earliest signs that cognitive decline is affecting speech and communication are often difficult to detect. Be on the lookout for these signs and symptoms so that you can start implementing a plan to improve communication as early as possible:
- Relying on familiar words. When an individual begins to experience cognitive decline, he or she may use familiar words repeatedly.
- Losing train of thought frequently. Inability to concentrate is a common symptom of progressive dementias such as Alzheimer’s disease and Lewy Body Dementia.
- Speaking less often. As communication becomes more challenging for individuals with dementia, it’s not uncommon for them to display social changes, such as speaking less often.
How to Improve Communication
If you’ve noticed the signs shared above in your loved one, it’s time to start thinking about ways to improve communication between the two of you. Here are some strategies to facilitate better communication:
- Seek help from a speech therapist. A qualified speech-language pathologist can be instrumental in teaching those with dementia a plethora of ways to improve communication.
- Approach the individual with care. Make it a habit to approach the individual from the front and say his or her name. In the later stages of cognitive decline, it may be necessary to introduce yourself with every encounter.
- Use simple words and sentences. This is especially important when asking questions or giving instructions.
- Use a calming tone. When speaking to someone with dementia, aim to use a gentle, comforting tone and positive nonverbal cues. An easygoing and friendly demeanor from the care partner may help the individual feel at ease.
- Use positive phrasing. Instead of saying “It’s too hot to wear long sleeves today,” try saying “Pick out your favorite short-sleeved shirt.” This small difference can avoid creating a tense or emotionally-charged situation.
As your loved one progresses through each stage of Lewy Body Dementia, you may notice his or her ability to communicate deteriorates. Even as these changes occur, you can implement the strategies mentioned here to keep communication strong. Being a care partner for someone with progressive dementia can be challenging, especially when communication becomes more difficult. If you need assistance finding resources or would simply like to chat with someone who understands the journey, we’re here to help. Our helpline is available seven days a week, so please give us a call at 516-218-2026 or send us an email when you’re ready to start the conversation.