Communicating with Those Who Have Dementia

Caring for someone who has dementia can be difficult, and sometimes simply communicating with that person can be your biggest challenge. Caregiver.org states, “that improving your communication skills can help make caregiving less stressful and will likely improve the quality of your relationship with that person.”  They also provide a variety of tips to improve communication with someone suffering from dementia. Here are a few suggestions.

  • Set a positive mood for interaction. A positive attitude and body language and a calm and respectful demeanor can really set the tone for better interaction.
  • State your message clearly. Use simple words and sentences. Speak slowly, distinctly, and in a reassuring tone.
  • Ask simple, answerable questions. Ask one question at a time; those with yes or no answers work best. Refrain from asking open-ended questions or giving too many choices.
  • Listen with your ears, eyes, and heart. Be patient in waiting for your loved one’s reply. If they struggle for an answer, it’s okay to suggest words. Watch for nonverbal cues and body language, and respond appropriately.
  • When the going gets tough, distract and redirect. If your loved one becomes upset or agitated, try changing the subject or the environment.
  • Maintain your sense of humor. Use humor whenever possible, though not at the person’s expense. People with dementia tend to retain their social skills and are usually delighted to laugh along with you.

For the full list of tips and other suggestions, visit www.caregiver.org/caregivers-guide-understanding-dementia-behaviors.

Validation Therapy for trained caregivers

Validation Method is an interactive therapy based on empathy, dignity and respect, where those with dementia can express their emotions, needs and concerns to a skilled and trusted listener. It was realized that more older adults with dementia were often trying to resolve unfinished issues during their final stages of life. Therefore, if trained caregivers could listen, acknowledge and validate their distress, they could help diminish their anxiety and resolve those lingering issues, so they could simply be at peace.

Key Elements of the Validation Method

  • It’s based on a theory that many older adults struggle with unresolved and unrequited issues. To deal with these issues, they will express past conflicts in disguised form, display time confusion causing a retreat inward, rely on movements instead of words, and lastly become vegetative and potentially shut out the world.
  • To help them resolve these past issues, Validation Method practitioners listen and show empathy and respect so they feel “validated“ not judged. Therefore, if they can express painful feelings freely, these feelings will gradually diminish. But if these feelings are ignored, the pain will fester, and they will not achieve the peace they are searching for.

For additional resources or more on the Validation Method, please contact Messiah Lifeways Coaching at 717.591.7225 or email coach@messiahlifeways.org.

originally published in Messiah Lifeways Preview Guide - February 2019
Matthew J. Gallardo

Matthew J. Gallardo

Matt is the Director of Community Engagement and Coaching at Messiah Lifeways. He brings nearly 20 years of experience in counseling, advocating, and guiding older adults and caregivers through many of life’s tough decisions. His diverse background of working in hospital and rehabilitation settings, community services, and senior housing gives him the breadth and depth of knowledge to provide unique solutions, opportunities, and help individuals proactively plan for the future. He serves as the Lifeways Coach and as a writer, blogger, podcaster, and speaker for Messiah Lifeways, located in Mechanicsburg, PA.

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