The Bristal Assisted Living Blog

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How Dementia Can Affect Communication

People with Alzheimer’s disease and other types of dementia can find themselves gradually closed off from the world due to increasing cognitive dysfunction. 

Read on to learn more about dementia’s effect on communication skills and get tips for communicating with your loved one. 

How Dementia Can Affect Communication Skills

According to the Alzheimer’s Association, dementia affects a person’s ability to speak, remember, and understand what they hear from others. Other challenges can include difficulties with writing and reading.

One of the first signs you may notice in your loved one is his or her difficulty in finding the right words when speaking. 

He or she may describe a familiar object because they cannot recall its name — nouns are the first type of words to be affected. Your loved one’s train of thought might get interrupted, and logical word sequences become harder for them to summon up. 

People with dementia find it difficult to join a conversation, to understand a subtlety or a joke, or keep up with complex sentences that include two or more pieces of information.  Unable to find the right word, a person may say the wrong word or a made-up word. As dementia worsens, these mistakes can increase.

Some people try to conceal their communication problems by pretending to understand more than they do when, in fact, they may completely misunderstand the conversation or situation. They may revert to silence, relying more on gestures than speech. The inability to speak coherently can cause people with dementia to feel frustrated and alone.

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Dementia and Communication Strategies

There are a variety of ways for loved ones and caregivers to make communication easier. 

In one study with professional caregivers, methods that were successful included providing a single direction or idea at a time, asking close-ended questions, and making repetitions with paraphrasing.

See more ideas below for making communicating with your loved one easier.

  • Use the person’s name to get their attention before talking. 
  • A gentle touch on the arm or shoulder can help.
  • Wait until the person looks at you, then begin to speak. 
  • Maintain eye contact and speak slowly, with pauses between sentences.
  • Keep your sentences simple and short, choosing basic, easy words, and allow time for your loved one to respond. 

As verbal and cognitive abilities decline, both partners can rely more on the tone of the voice and body language. Try to minimize the number of words you use and concentrate on your loved one’s tone while simultaneously using gestures.

Watch your loved one’s eyes to make sure he or she understands what you said. Repeat what you heard back to the person and ask if it is accurate, or ask your loved one to repeat what he or she said. 

Try to be engaged by giving visual cues, and break instructions down into simple steps, conveying them slowly. At times, words can become jumbled and you may hear one or two clear words. Try repeating those words back to your loved one to let him or her know you are listening and understanding. Patience is key.

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Creating a Calm Environment

Communication is easiest for those with dementia when they are in quiet, peaceful surroundings. Remove or limit distractions, such as televisions or other people’s conversations. 

Also, remember that people with dementia can communicate better when their physical needs -- thirst, hunger, pain, toileting -- are met first. Attend to these needs proactively. 

The more advanced dementia becomes, the more important it is not to give up communication. Communication may come in many different forms: a bouquet of flowers, a card, a hug, a smile, working together or simply holding hands. 

Always convey a positive attitude, so as not to create anxiety. Interactions between loved ones and caregivers can help keep the affected person grounded and in the world, both receiving and giving love.

Memory Care on Long Island

The Bristal offers memory care for those with dementia and other cognitive disorders throughout our communities in New York and New Jersey. Each Reflections memory care neighborhood provides the care, attention, and dignity our residents need to help them live fulfilling lives.

Learn more about memory care at The Bristal. 


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