As the number of geriatric Americans continues to grow, many people find themselves faced with the task of taking care of a parent or other loved one with dementia, the cognitive decline that often accompanies aging. Communicating with an individual can be challenging, as language skills decline. However, there are steps you can take to make communication easier for you and your loved one:
When addressing a person with dementia, make sure you have their full attention before speaking. Say the person’s name and attempt to make sustained eye contact. If the person is seated, sit down as well so that you are making eye contact on the same level rather than looking down at them. A light touch on the arm may also help gain their attention.
Simplify the environment. A person with dementia has decreased ability to filter out distractions, so noisy or visually distracting environments can make communication even more difficult than usual. Eliminate unnecessary noise by turning off the television or radio. Minimize visual distractions as well, by closing the curtains or shutting the door.
When asking a person with dementia a question, tailor it to their level of understanding. Often communication can be improved by avoiding open-ended questions (e.g. What do you want for breakfast?) and replacing them with multiple-choice questions (e.g. Do you want cereal, eggs, or toast for breakfast?). In later stages of dementia, questions can be simplified further, by asking yes-or-no questions or presenting choices visually rather than verbally.
Check in with us again next week when we’ll address some of the feeding and swallowing difficulties that arise with dementia.
If someone in your life has dementia and you are having difficulty communicating, you may benefit from the services of a professional speech-language pathologist. A speech therapist can help your loved one maintain communication skills for as long as possible, and can help you to develop strategies to enhance communication. 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!