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Dementia and communication - Tips to improve the conversation Anthem Memory Care

When a Parent Has Dementia, How You Communicate is Everything!

Family members of individuals with dementia will often tell us that they sometimes feel they must re-learn basic communications skills to connect with their loved ones.

In many ways that is true. Because the rules have indeed changed. You may no longer be able to rely on the kind of casual back and forth banter that was part of your family vernacular for years.

The first step is to make peace with the fact that things have changed. The next step is to develop new communications skills that respond to your loved one’s changing cognitive state while respecting their place and stature in your family. Doing so will maximize your loved one’s ability to understand you and respond accordingly.

Here are five tips:

  1. Use adult language. Try to avoid the urge to talk to mom as if she is child. While her cognition may make her seem more childlike, she is still your parent.
  2. Speak slowly. It may help to sit close to your loved one. If possible establish eye contact. Avoid the tendency to talk loudly. Be concise and clear. Wait for their reaction and give them time to respond.
  3. Avoid the “Don’t you remember?” trap. It is natural to feel frustrated when a loved one doesn’t remember something. The inclination is to keep prodding them. Instead, take a step back and refocus your comments on something like the flowers on the table or the food you are eating. Adjusting your conversation to things in the “here and now” will make it easier.
  4. Verbalize your communication challenges in a positive way. It can be helpful to say out loud, “Mom I know it’s hard for both of us to understand each other. But we’re doing the best we can.” Even if mom doesn’t respond, just hearing yourself say it can do wonders.
  5. Find an outlet to release your tensions. This is where a dementia support group can really help. Our Anthem Memory Care support groups are led by seasoned professionals and create a supportive environment where you are free to share your experiences and concerns with others who can relate personally to your challenges.

As you work to apply these tips to yourself, don’t forget to share them with family and close friends so that they, too, can experience the benefits as well.  

This is without a doubt a challenging journey. But by discovering new, more productive ways to communicate with your loved one, you can retain more of the relationship you once treasured, while forging a new one that, with patience, can lead to more moments of joy.