By Pamela Atwood, MA Director of Dementia Care Services
We hear it all the time. “I swear, my father does this on purpose because he knows it will make me nuts,” or, “It’s the same question, over and over. I just told her the answer two minutes ago!” Using effective communication skills can drastically improve your ability to get the message across and lessen the frustration in caring for another person. If communication is a problem, keep these tips in mind:
Approach is key! Approach quietly, slowly and calmly. If someone is startled or agitated, they cannot be a good communicator.
Be sure s/he can hear you. Face front and make eye contact. Be sure you have the attention of the person. Also, keep in mind that as we age we start to lose the ability to hear higher tones. When we start to shout, frequently the tone of our voice goes up and it is harder for older ears to hear. Try dropping the tone of your voice.
Adjust to meet cognitive abilities. If a person has significant memory issues, s/he may not be able to process and respond to complex statements/questions. Break down the statement, offer choices or use yes/no questions. Once you figure out what the person responds to, communicate that way consistently for best results.
Have realistic expectations. If there are problems with memory, hearing or even long-standing personality issues it is reasonable to expect communication difficulties. If a person has dementia, repeating oneself is part of the condition. Anticipate these challenges and adjust before you both become frustrated. At the same time, be realistic about your own limits – take a break, educate yourself about what else you can do, get some respite, or join a support group where you can vent your frustrations with people who understand.