Adults 85 years and older are currently the fastest growing group in America. As a result, the number of adults caring for aging parents has soared in the past couple of decades. One of the most difficult components of caregiving can be dealing with dementia, or the cognitive decline that often accompanies aging. An individual with dementia can present with challenging, and sometimes dangerous behavior, making constant supervision and care a necessity. Dementia also creates barriers in communication. The individual with dementia may not understand what is being said to them and will typically have difficulties producing language, ranging from having trouble finding the right words, to forgetting how to use language altogether. Although communicating with an individual with dementia can be difficult, there are strategies you can employ to make things easier:
Slow Down: A person with dementia isn’t able to process information in the way that they used to. Speaking slowly and pausing between each sentence allows the person with dementia to process your speech. Allow for pauses and silence after you finish speaking as well—don’t simply end the interaction if you don’t receive an immediate response. A person with dementia may need extra time to formulate a response.
Clear and Simple: Make sure you are using clear speech and enunciating each sound. If your speech is mumbled, it may compound the individual’s difficulty understanding language. In addition, you should keep your phrasing short and simple. Make a habit of stating each point in the simplest wording possible.
Use a Positive Tone of Voice: Even though a person with dementia may have trouble understanding your words, they will typically still be able to read the emotion behind your tone of voice. If you seem tense, rushed, or unhappy, the individual may pick up on this and react negatively. On the other hand, if you speak with a positive, calming tone of voice, you are much more likely to be received in a positive way.
In addition to these tips, a communication professional, such as a speech-language pathologist, can help optimize communication between you and your loved one. A speech therapist can provide education for the caregiver on how best to communicate, and can provide external aids and strategies for the individual with dementia to communicate their needs and preferences to the best of their ability.
Stay tuned: next week we’ll discuss how to handle some of the difficult situations that can arise in dementia by using strong communication techniques.
If you or someone you love has a communication disorder, contact Speech Associates of New York and allow our professionally trained and certified speech-language pathologists help you communicate to the best of your ability. Our team provides in-home evaluations and therapy, and is trained in the assessment and treatment of a range of pediatric and adult speech, language and communication disorders. Call us today at (212)308-7725 and find out how we can help you communicate your best!