Understanding Dementia Patients & Tips for Better Communication


The World Health Organization (WHO) defines dementia as a term for several diseases that affect memory, thinking, and the ability to perform daily activities. The most common cause of dementia is Alzheimer’s disease. There are other diseases that can result in cognitive decline. They include Alzheimer’s disease, Lewy body dementia, vascular dementia, and frontotemporal dementia. Thus, dementia is an umbrella term used to describe the absence or loss of different types of cognitive functions. Symptoms of dementia include gradual loss of memory, notable alterations in thinking, changes in behavior, language difficulty, planning problems, and inappropriate reasoning.

The illness is usually accompanied by obvious cognitive decline, which deteriorates over time. As deterioration occurs, it affects the function of the brain. The brain becomes weaker and slower to respond. It is accompanied by difficulty in communication as well. This is why anyone taking care of a dementia patient must be well trained because it requires a lot of patience. It is important for caregivers to be patient because they’re trying to adapt to the growing condition of an older adult whose trajectory of life is being altered by an illness that’s changing their personality. Changes in personality and behavior are commonplace among people with dementia.

This illness is rampant among older adults, but that does not mean that all older adults are going to be patients of dementia.

Dementia usually affects a person’s life, and it usually calls for intense care from loved ones. Dementia has no cure. Once a person is diagnosed with dementia, they will be subject to it until their demise. Either loved ones take care of the patients themselves or they hire trained nurses or caregivers.

There are so many difficulties associated with caring for a dementia patient. From trying to understand their “new” behavior to trying to manage their aggression. These are just two of the many challenges that caring for a dementia patient poses for families and caregivers. It is usually difficult for dementia patients to remember things that happened recently. It is common not to remember what happened just thirty to forty minutes ago. Although dementia poses many challenges, there are practical steps that can be followed in dealing with patients with difficult behavior and communication problems.

Carers must note that dementia patients may not always start a conversation. And even if they do, expect that it might be out of context or something you know absolutely nothing about. In cases where patients can’t start conversations on their own, you can help by igniting meaningful conversations. Try some of these tips whenever you need to start a conversation:

  • Make your sentences short and clear. You might get frustrated if you try to rush conversations with a dementia patient.
  • Keep eye contact. When you do this, you’re helping the patient understand that they have your attention and that you’re willing to listen to them.
  • Don’t be in haste to get a response. Dementia patients have a hard time processing information. Give them time to process what you’ve asked them. Demanding an immediate response might make them feel insecure.
  • Don’t scream or yell at them. Some of their responses to your question may be totally out of place. You may need to ask the same question repeatedly, which might lead to frustration on your end. No matter how frustrated you are, never scream or yell at them.

Caregivers of dementia patients must possess good communication skills. It will be extremely difficult or nearly impossible for someone without good communication skills to attend to dementia patients. Rigidity in communication will provide little to no help. Thus, communication must be understood in other forms. Communication isn’t only about speech. The individual who uses facial expressions and gestures to communicate isn’t far removed from the one who talks. For effective communication with a dementia patient, you may want to try the following:

  • The tone of your voice matters. It is important to remain as courteous as possible. You don’t want to sound disrespectful or frustrated when communicating with a patient.
  • Use movements or gestures like nodding. Show them you’re listening to them.
  • Don’t interrupt their speech. Remember that dementia patients have difficulty processing information, so you don’t want to interrupt their train of thought when they’re framing a response. Let them conclude their speech before you ask another question.

Carers must understand that their patients are not less human in any way because of their condition and thus must not be treated as such. There is a tendency for patients not to fully understand a subject or topic being discussed in the dining room, but that does not mean that they should be secluded. You have to try to get them involved in some of the important discussions. To assume that they will not understand is a poor assumption. Moreover, declines in cognitive functions differ among patients. Involve them in the discussion and even seek their opinion on important issues.

Some of these tips can also help you understand your patients better;

  • Practice listening. Let them also have the floor for as long as possible. You don’t want to be the one doing all the talking. They might become overwhelmed if that’s the case. Let them talk, and you will listen.
  • Pay attention to what triggers the wrong behaviors. It is common for patients to get really upset at some activities; it is the duty of a caregiver to determine a less offensive approach to the activity.



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