How to Empathetically Communicate With Someone With Dementia
When a loved one has dementia, the way in which you communicate with them will begin changing as their memory care needs progress. Proper communication is a vital component in your role as a caregiver. The memory care specialists at Placita In Home Care are here to guide you through how to empathetically communicate with your loved one with dementia.
Understanding Empathetic Care
Empathy may come naturally for some, and for others it’s a skill that takes more thought and practice. Empathy may be a challenging skill to hone when dealing with the frustrating moments of dementia care, as it can feel like an uphill battle. However, there are key ways to ensure smooth communication with your loved one with memory care needs.
Sympathy refers to sharing feelings or interests, but empathy requires putting yourself in the shoes of your loved one to see the situation from their point of view. As challenging as memory care may be as a caregiver, your loved one with dementia is going through their own set of obstacles that may be just as tough. It’s important to understand their feelings in order to appropriately handle difficult situations.
Making Your Loved One Feel Seen and Heard
The foundation of empathetic communication is demonstrating to your loved one with memory care needs that you hear their feelings and you understand that what they are going through is important and valid. For instance, if your loved one has just undergone a medical procedure and they are in pain, you may not be able to physically feel their discomfort, but you can grasp their emotions and understand the severity of what they are going through. This knowledge lets you react accordingly to contribute to their healing, comfort, and well-being.
Be Present With Your Loved One
Being present is a critical component of effective, empathetic communication. As a caregiver, you have a lot on your plate, as you must juggle your personal needs and the evolving needs of your loved one. However, when it comes to communication, it’s essential to put other tasks on hold in order to be present and in the moment. By focusing on your loved one, sitting down, and maintaining strong eye contact to create connection, you can show your loved one that you are fully present and ready to hear them because you care. You may gently hold their hand or touch them to solidify your connection. This will facilitate their ability to share what they are feeling and it will also provide you with communication cues that you may otherwise have missed.
Remain Calm, Quiet, and Relaxed
Your loved one with memory care needs may not always understand what you are conveying to them; however, they will understand your tone and mood. This means if you are speaking or acting in a way that conveys anxiety, stress, or distraction, your loved one may pick up these emotions as well, leading to fear or confusion. When you’re speaking with your loved one, remain calm and speak in a gentle, relaxed tone while demonstrating that you are engaged. Ensure your voice remains friendly and at ease to signal to your loved one that they are in a safe space and that they are cared for.
Watch for Non-Verbal and Emotional Signals
Your loved one with dementia may have difficulty articulating their thoughts and feelings. However, they may offer emotional and non-verbal cues that can fill in the blanks and speak volumes about the message they are trying to communicate. It’s important to pay close attention and remain engaged in order to determine what they are trying to explain.
Emotional cues may be in the form of the flow of their words. If they are forgetting their train of thought or becoming distracted, they may be trying to share that something is bothering them. In this case, gently encourage them to continue explaining what’s on their mind. Their facial expression can also be an indicator of what they are trying to say. Even with dementia, a person can display signs of fear, sadness, or happiness in their body language or facial expressions.
Keep Questions Concise and Clear
When your loved one forgets words or cannot keep track of their train of thought, it may be hard to understand what they are trying to share with you. In these instances, you may ask them questions to help them organize their thoughts. When asking questions, make sure to keep the questions concise and clear. Yes or no questions or simple open-ended questions are most suitable, depending on your loved one’s cognitive state. Keep in mind that even if your loved one veers from the question, they may be trying to explain something to you, so it’s important to stay focused and engaged as they speak.
Have Patience When Speaking With Your Loved One
Your loved one with dementia may not respond as quickly as they once did. When this begins to occur, it may be challenging to avoid jumping in to prompt them or cutting them off because you think you know what they are about to say. It’s essential to give them enough time to try to respond on their own. By offering invasive forms of help when they don’t answer quickly enough, your loved one may feel rushed or like you don’t have the patience to listen to them.
When your loved one needs a minute to reply, sit back and take a deep breath while you wait for them to collect their thoughts. In most cases, you will discover that when you remain silent as they think about how they’re going to express themselves, your loved one will break the silence themselves without being prompted.
Reply to Your Loved One Thoughtfully
Dementia may feel as though it has stripped your loved one of their personality. However, it’s important to show respect and compassion when communicating with your loved one. Treat them like an adult and avoid baby talk or speaking as though they are not in the room with you, as this can be hurtful even if you don’t intend to hurt their feelings. Pay close attention to how you are speaking to them and take a step back from the conversation if you are feeling overwhelmed. As a caregiver, you have the power to control your emotions and the way you hold yourself, while your loved one with dementia cannot. Be sure to reply to your loved one thoughtfully to ensure they feel respected and loved.
Get Memory Care Support From the Caregiving Professionals
Empathetic communication can improve the dynamic of the relationship between a caregiver and loved one, promoting meaningful conversations and positive feelings that contribute to your loved one’s quality of life. For more information about memory care, contact the compassionate professionals at Placita In Home Care today!