It’s not rocket science. Anyone who’s been in a relationship, worked on a team, or played a game of telephone knows that communication is key. With great communication, people feel heard, things get accomplished. Without it, feelings are hurt, tasks fall through the cracks, and in some cases, chaos can ensue. Communication is sometimes easier said than done, however. And when we’re talking about communicating with a person who has dementia, this can bring additional challenges. For example, body language—theirs and yours—can play a bigger role than usual when someone has cognitive impairment.
As you work with your patients who have dementia, keep these 12 key strategies in mind to help you more effectively get your message across to your patients, and in turn, better understand what they are trying to tell you:
- Put yourself in the person’s shoes—are they scared? Frustrated? Sad? In pain? If they cannot articulate verbally, they will do this through their behavior. Try to determine what they may be trying to communicate.
- TMT-TMT Rule: Too much talk and too much touch can overstimulate and agitate a person with dementia. Sometimes a simple gesture and silent curing is better than talking.
- Be aware of body language. Standing over a resident can cause a “fight or flight” response.
- Smile and take a few minutes to sit eye-to-eye with person, and talk about something you know the person enjoys, such as sports, upcoming holidays, grandchildren, pets, etc. before beginning hands-on care. This can help build trust.
- Be patient, calm, and consistent. Routine is good.
- Keep voice, face and body relaxed & positive. A smile and open arms says a lot!
- Make eye contact, communicate “face on” and respect personal space.
- Use gentle touch to reassure when appropriate.
- Observe their nonverbal reactions & respond accordingly.
- Write things down for them if they have trouble hearing or understanding you.
- If you have to repeat something, use the same words. Using different words the second or third time may confuse them.
- Create a vicarious experience for the patient. Role model the activity you’d like them to do so they can observe and copy what you’re doing. If they see you doing the activity successfully, they will be more likely to believe they can do it too!
Next time you are working with a patient who has dementia, be mindful of these tips and strategies for communicating more effectively with them. Talk with your co-workers about strategies that have worked for you, and discuss communication challenges and ideas for addressing those too.
Have a great week!