Healthcare is quickly becoming dementia care. Whether you work in a clinic, long term care, home care, or hospital, you will interact with people dementia. And these people will likely have speech and language challenges. Dementia care training often focuses on the underlying impairment when care partners really need practical solutions. Easy-to-learn dementia communication skills, save both parties frustration. Here are a helpful strategies.
When she has trouble finding the right words to tell you want she wants to say or you can’t understand her because of “word salad” or slurred speech.
- She may understand more than she can express with words.
- Use skilled touch to reassure her.
- Listen for a key word or phrase to give you a clue about what she is telling you and repeat the word to let her know you are paying attention.
- Remember the emotions behind the words are more important than the words. Validate the emotion. Mirror the non-verbal expression: facial expression, movements or sounds.
- It is easier for her to answer yes or no questions or those requiring one word response rather than open ended questions.
When he has trouble understanding what you say:
- Use touch to engage his attention.
- Supplement your speech with gestures.
- Be patient. Allow time for him to absorb what you said.
- Pay attention to your non-verbal expression. It “speaks” when words are lost.
- Point to objects that will clarify the message – or act out what you are trying to say.
- Ask one question at a time.
When you feel confident in your ability to handle dementia communication challenges, you’re more at ease. You can then shift your focus away from the physical condition to what is even more important—the person you are serving at the moment. You will be freer to connect with the person as a human being, a form of communication that speaks louder than words ever can. Isn’t that what person centered care is all about?
It’s no secret that memory care is one of the fastest growing senior care service, providing healthcare professionals increasing opportunities. But, if you are new to dementia care, I suggest you ask: “Am I really prepared?” and “Do I have what it takes?” Serving people with dementia requires a unique combination of knowledge, skills and personal awareness.
Knowledge gives you a foundation to act from. When informed, you can offer your care with confidence and ease. It’s essential to be informed about the characteristics and needs of people with dementia, such as:
- Age related changes. It is important to understand the “normal” physical and functional changes of aging versus changes that are manifestations of a disease resulting in symptoms of dementia.
- Common conditions found in eldercare settings. If you work in long term care, you will encounter people living with the effects of stroke, Parkinson’s disease, Alzheimer’s disease, hip fracture, cancer, among others. A basic understanding of these conditions will ensure that you provide safe, effective and meaningful service.
- Special needs of elders in facility care. Those who live in care settings are often dealing with loss, grief, feelings of helplessness, lack of control, boredom, touch deprivation and feelings of isolation. Your awareness and compassionate acknowledgement of these sensitive issues will deepen your therapeutic relationship with each individual.
Most of us don’t give much thought to items we use in our everyday lives. But the memories of these seemingly benign objects reconnect us with moments of meaning in our lives.
One woman found a moment of joy in… a sponge roller? Who thinks of a sponge roller anymore – or even knows what one is? But for this woman, it evoked sweet memories of her grandmother “putting up” her hair on a Saturday night to get ready for church the next day. With tears in her eyes she told about swapping stories and memories about laughing and eating yummy snacks as her grandmother wound her hair around rows of pink rollers that she would later sleep in. She relived those sweet times and reconnected to her grandmother- sparked by a sponge roller!
Everyday items have the power to ignite our senses and memories about people, places, experiences, and emotions of all kinds. Our days are filled with the “stuff of life”. A phrase usually meant philosophically is quite literal too.
I have an old, scratched up metal recipe box that lives among my cookbooks. It was THE recipe box in my mom’s kitchen. It’s filled with recipes cut from newspapers- lots of things made from Jello and marshmallows. But it’s the hand-written recipe card for peanut butter cookies that gets to me. You see I made dozens and dozens of those cookies. The card is stained with butter and there are little bits of fossilized cookie dough stuck to it. Hold it, and I’m right back with the memories of making a mess in the kitchen baking with my friend Shelly. I even still use the same old aluminum measuring spoons. Someone else might wonder why I don’t get rid of those old things. But there’s history in those spoons- and it’s MY history.
What “stuff” causes you to say, “Oh wow, I remember that!” How might caregivers use this same reaction to help people living with dementia reconnect with meaningful moments.