Communication is a big challenge for many individuals when dealing with loved ones suffering from dementia. Because of the inability to focus and remember, dementia patients experience feelings of anger and confusion, which may result in oppositional and aggressive behavior toward family caregivers in contact, like a family member or a spouse. This is why family caregivers often feel lost and helpless when talking to ageing parents with dementia.
However, communication doesn’t have to be the barrier that stands between you and your parent. By understanding the condition of dementia better and practicing strategies to deal with dementia behavior, you too can effectively communicate with a dementia patient.
Understanding Dementia from the patient’s point of view
Communication difficulties can be frustrating and upsetting. However, it is important to first understand dementia from the patient’s point of view as well. By placing yourself in their shoes, it helps you empathize and realize how you should react when dealing with dementia parents.
The feeling of helplessness and the inability to express oneself is not only experienced by caregivers, but also felt by those with the disease. Dementia declines one’s memory and impairs their ability to reason and judge. Hence, personality mood swings happen regularly and uncontrollably. People with dementia require help for the simplest of tasks such as remembering appointments and traveling around the neighborhood. Many times, they will also engage in aggressive actions or speech when they are placed in confusing and unfamiliar situations.
However, the most crucial thing to note about their ‘unreasonable’ or ‘aggressive’ behaviors, is that your loved one is not doing it on purpose. Framing your mindset in a more empathetic way will allow for more patient and effective communication.
What are some tricky situations you may encounter?
In situations of aggression
Examples of aggressive speech or actions such as “Why aren’t you letting me eat?!” or “I want to go home now!” or “I can’t find my purse!” often spark aggressive behaviors among dementia patients. As mentioned by an article by a Place for Mom, “People with dementia are more apt to hit, kick or bite in response to feeling helpless and afraid.” It is important to note that aggression is usually sparked because of fear and feelings of desperation and exasperation. For example, they may not remember that they have eaten 30 minutes ago. So it may come as confusing and restricting for them when you refuse to give them food.
In order to handle such situations more effectively, the solution is to understand why certain actions provoke your parents or place them in uncomfortable situations that can cause distress and oppositional behaviors. For example, some patients do not like to be touched. Actions like patting their backs to sooth them down will only serve to agitate them even further. Therefore, knowing your parents and their level of comfort with certain actions can prevent situations that provoke aggression.
It is also important to speak in a patient way so as to calm agitated patients down and reassure them on their fears and confusion. Take note to prevent engaging in a heated argument, or to forcefully restrain them from doing things. Dementia patients require a lot of patience and understanding, hence fighting aggression with aggression is not an effective solution to improve communication.
In situations of confusion
It is common among patients with dementia to be confused about their surroundings at different and random points of time. Examples of what they will say are: “This is not my husband!” or “Where is my home?”.
In these situations, you can try to refresh their memories with tangible proof such as pictures or ornaments. Keep your responses short and sweet by diverting their attention, or responding in ways that make them feel safe and understood.
It is advisable to not provide lengthy explanations because it will only lead to greater confusion and frustration on your side as you repeat yourself excessively.
3 useful tips for more effective communication
- Do not bombard your dementia patient with questions and answers all at once. Dementia patients often find it challenging to focus, and we as family members have to be as understanding as possible.
- Be patient and gentle with your dementia parent. Having to repeat certain things to them may be frustrating, but getting agitated will only make the situation worse.
- Keep conversations short and sweet, and avoid lengthy explanations
- Seek professional help. Caring for a parent with dementia can be challenging as an individual with no prior experience or formal education. If you need help, engaging home care services can help ease your burdens while still allowing you to care for your parents at home.
Communication is a two-way street and requires effort from both parties. Developing an empathetic and open mind when dealing with your dementia parents is key to establishing an effective conversation.
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