What is Dementia?
Dementia is an overall term for diseases and conditions. Characterized by a decline in memory, language, problem-solving and other thinking skills that affect a person’s ability to perform everyday activities.
Dementia is not a single disease; it’s an overall term that covers a wide range of specific medical conditions, including Alzheimer’s disease. However, Alzheimer’s disease accounts for 60 to 80 percent of cases.
Disorders grouped under the general term “dementia” are caused by abnormal brain changes. These changes trigger a decline in thinking skills, also known as cognitive abilities, severe enough to impair daily life and independent function. They also affect behavior, feelings and relationships.
Caring for a loved one with dementia poses many challenges for families and caregivers. People with dementia from conditions such as Alzheimer’s and related diseases have a progressive biological brain disorder.
Additionally, it makes it more and more difficult for them to remember things, think clearly, communicate with others, and take care of themselves. Therefore, dementia can cause mood swings and even change a person’s personality and behavior.
7 Tips for Communicating with a Person with Dementia
- Set a positive mood for interaction. Your attitude and body language communicate your feelings and thoughts more strongly than your words do. Use facial expressions, tone of voice, and physical touch to help convey your message and show your feelings of affection.
- Get the person’s attention. Limit distractions and noise. You can turn off the radio or TV, close the curtains or shut the door, or move to quieter surroundings. Before speaking, make sure you have her attention; address her by name, identify yourself by name and relation, and use nonverbal cues and touch to help keep her focused. If she is seated, get down to her level and maintain eye contact.
- State your message clearly. Use simple words and sentences. Speak slowly, distinctly, and in a reassuring tone. Refrain from raising your voice higher or louder; instead, pitch your voice lower. If she doesn’t understand the first time, use the same wording to repeat your message or question. If she still doesn’t understand, wait a few minutes and rephrase the question.
- Ask simple, answerable questions. Ask one question at a time; those with yes or no answers work best. Refrain from asking open-ended questions or giving too many choices.
- Listen with your ears, eyes, and heart. Be patient in waiting for your loved one’s reply. If she is struggling for an answer, it’s okay to suggest words. Watch for nonverbal cues and body language, and respond appropriately. Always strive to listen for the meaning and feelings that underlie the words.
- Break down activities into a series of steps. This makes many tasks much more manageable. You can encourage your loved one to do what he can, gently remind him of steps he tends to forget, and assist with steps he’s no longer able to accomplish on his own. Using visual cues, such as showing him with your hand where to place the dinner plate, can be very helpful.
- Maintain your sense of humor. Use humor whenever possible, though not at the person’s expense. People with dementia tend to retain their social skills and are usually delighted to laugh along with you.