Communication is an integral way of life. Needless to say, when that way of life is disrupted in any form, it becomes a challenge for the individual and those communicating with them. Individuals living with cognitive impairment such as Alzheimer’s or dementia may specifically face communication challenges affected by memory loss, changes in personality or behavior, confusion, and/or loss of judgement or the ability to make decisions. Someone with memory loss and confusion may have trouble understanding what is being said and struggle with saying what they think and want. As a caregiver, family member or friend, it’s very important to have the patience, understanding and skills to communicate effectively to provide quality care and compassion.
Thankfully, there are many methods and helpful tips to communicate with those that suffer from cognitive impairment. Learning these methods is vital and can substantially make a difference in personal interactions. Remembering these strategies can keep the individual less confused and more engaged. Here are some practical tips to help make communication easier:
- Patience – NEVER get upset with them
- Reduce distractions – stay focused on them
- Personalize your conversation – use their name, your name or people’s names whom they’re familiar with
- Use short, simple sentences
- Repeat sentences exactly
- Be specific and detailed
- Offer simple choices
- Avoid open-ended questions (especially if they may not know the answer – stick with yes or no responses).
- Never challenge them (ex: if they’re calling someone by the wrong name or have an interaction wrong, do not correct them. This may further confuse and/or upset them).
- Use labels for all items in their environment (cup, bathroom door, light, toilet, etc.)
- Use non-verbals or signals if needed
Every person is different, so you’ll find that some methods will work better than others. To improve communication with someone suffering from cognitive impairment, one must also learn to be creative listeners and adapt communication strategies to meet each individual’s unique needs. Both verbal and nonverbal communication should be used such as:
- Eye contact
- Shaking hands
- Gentle touch (hand, shoulder, etc)
- Initiating conversation
- Asking questions (simple and non-challenging)
Providing care and/or being the family member of a cognitively impaired individual is not an easy task. It can be an emotionally taxing process when having to completely shift your traditional form of communication to meet their needs. Be sure to remember this takes time to adapt, learn and digest. Eventually, it will become second nature when communicating with your loved one or patient. While communicating with cognitively impaired people can be one of the most challenging situations, it can also be one of the most rewarding! For more information, questions and resources on this topic, contact us – we can help!