Tips for Engaging Patients with Dementia
May 22 2019
How to Have Meaningful Interactions with Those Who Have Difficulty with Conversation
It can be difficult for a person with Alzheimer’s or other types of dementia to initiate and maintain conversations. However, it is possible to have meaningful and engaging conversations with your patients or loved ones who suffer from dementia. By leading, prompting and guiding the conversation with simple statements and questions, you’ll be able to yield important information and have meaningful exchanges.
Part of caring and treating people with dementia involves maintaining an engagement in life and improving their ability to communicate. A feeling of wellbeing comes when our words are shared and acknowledged by others. When a person’s ability to speak becomes limited, it is important that we recognize other forms of communication. Even direct eye contact or a shared smile can be worth a thousand words.
These tips will help you better engage your patients or loved one with dementia.
Make sure that you look directly at the patient when you speak. This will help hold their attention and focus on what you are saying. If you are an unfamiliar person, or the patient may not remember you, start by introducing yourself. State your name and role. Don’t wait for the person with dementia to start talking. Start the conversation by introducing a topic. A good place to start is by asking to look at family photos with them.
Giving too much information at one time can be confusing for patients with dementia so be sure to only offer one idea at a time. Use simple words and short sentences but speak in a loving manner. Do not be patronizing; it is disrespectful. Use hand gestures or facial expressions to emphasize your words. Sometimes it is easiest to ask short yes or no questions or to use multiple-choice questions. For example, ask, “ Would you like soup or a sandwich?” not, “What would you like for lunch?”
For those who have an even more difficult time speaking and understanding oral conversation, use pictures as topics of conversation. And when necessary, write what you need to say. It will give the patient a better chance to understand.
What to Avoid
- Don’t be patronizing. Speak in an adult manner and with respect.
- Don’t yell. Louder sounds can actually be harder to hear or understand and angry facial expressions can agitate and confuse the patient.
- Don’t whisper or speak too quickly. Speak at a normal volume and at an understandable pace.
- Don’t interrupt. Allow the patient time to complete their thoughts.
- Don’t talk about the patient in their presence as if they are not there. Acknowledge their presence and respect their dignity, even if you are trying to speak with a loved one about their medical treatment.
- Don’t speak to the person unless they are facing you. Eye contact is important for the patient to be able to focus on what you are saying.
- Don’t attempt to engage the patient in a noisy environment. They can be easily distracted by what else is going on.
- Don’t ask lengthy or complex questions. Instead ask simple, short questions.
- Don’t ask questions that require the patient to recall names.
- Don’t argue. Try changing the topic instead.
- Don’t demand a verbal response from the patient. Accept attentive listening, hand gestures, facial expressions and eye contact as a response.
- Most importantly, don’t give up trying to have meaningful conversations with your patient or loved one!