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Tools for Communicating
April 22, 2019
It can be very challenging to communicate with a loved one who has dementia. These tools, I hope, can help encourage positive interactions with your loved one who is suffering from memory loss.
Communicate Clearly: its important to turn off all distractions. Overloading the brain with sounds or images can make communication more difficult. Turn off the TV, turn off the radio. Use the loved one’s first name. Be positive and upbeat. And use simple instructions and clear and concise speech.
Make Eye Contact: People with dementia often see best two feet below eye level. This is often why they are looking down at the floor. Kneel or squat below them so you can get in their visual field. Make eye contact, smile!
Don’t Interrupt: Let’s say you need your loved one to get out of a chair. You, keeping things concise and simple, say, “stand up.” The person begins to move toward the edge of the seat, very slowly. You are scared they didn’t understand you so you say “stand up” again. The person pauses. Then slowly begins to move again. This is because every time you give an instruction you are “resetting” the command. Allow plenty of time for the person to move. Don’t distract them or repeat yourself when you are waiting for them to perform the instruction. You will be surprised how much this works!
Familiar Music Helps: music can activate parts of the brain associated with speaking and remembering. I often ask the families I work with “what did your father love to listen to in his younger days.” Let’s say they tell me gospel music. I’ll go to my phone and type in gospel music 1950s (or whatever decade my patient was in his/her 20s/30s) and play the music. The person may light. We can use that music to dance to. Dance is a great therapy because you stand up (improves cognition, breathing, digestion, blood flow), you move (exercise) and you weight shift or take steps ( improves balance / fall prevention).
Utilize Familiar Activities: I remember I had a patient who had loved to garden in her younger days. It had been years, maybe decades since she last gardened. Nevertheless, while dementia was keeping her from learning “new” things, she was able to have procedural recall, meaning she could remember the steps to perform certain actions. Procedural recall is often kept intact well into the late stages of dementia. We got some little pots, soil, seeds, and a pitcher of water, and had her stand up and work with those items. She stood up (yay!) reached for the soil, (great for arm strength), and poured the water (coordination, problem solving). Finding meaningful things from the past can help your loved one move again. Moving can help in so many ways, so many systems. Staying active is one of the best things we can all do for our health and brain.