How to relate to a family member with dementia

(NC)-Many older people with mild dementia live at home and communicating with them can be difficult and frustrating – yet it’s vital to keep trying.

“Building a relationship with someone who has dementia requires ongoing work and patience,” says Dr. Kathy McGilton, research scientist at the Toronto Rehabilitation Institute, Canada’s largest provider of adult rehabilitation services.

The first step is to assess how much someone with dementia understands, says Dr. McGilton, who has done extensive research into how health care providers relate to people with dementia.

“You need to tailor communication strategies to people’s abilities – not their disabilities. You don’t want to oversimplify and talk down to the person, but you want to be understood as well.”

Here are some dos and don’ts for communicating with people with dementia:

. Use short, simple instructions. Put on your shirt and socks, brush your teeth and come downstairs, may be too complicated for some. Instead start with put on your shirt.

. If someone has word retrieval problems, encourage her to describe the word or “talk around” it.

. Ask questions that can be answered yes or no.

. Don’t neglect non-verbal mmunications. Speak in a friendly voice, look at the person, and use appropriate body language, like holding his hand. If he seems stressed, pause.

. Use gestures, pictures or written words to get your message across.

. If the person becomes agitated, try a different approach. Don’t rush or interrupt her – allow plenty of time to respond, and listen to her concerns.

. Stay calm. If you get frustrated, take a break. Your family member will sense your anger and react.

. Manage the environment. A noisy dishwasher or a ringing phone may short-circuit communications.

“Given time, families often come up with workable strategies on their own,” says Dr. McGilton. “But it’s easier to learn how to relate to a family member with dementia by reading up and adopting some simple strategies than by painful trial and error.”

– News Canada