Improving Communication with a Person Diagnosed with Dementia Communication is difficult for people with dementia. They often have problems with language that are caused by damage to their brain. First, the person may find it difficult to find their words.

As dementia progresses, the person may begin repeating themselves. In addition to verbal skills, people with dementia slowly lose their ability to read and understand written information. Some people revert back to their native language. As the dementia worsens, some people lose their ability to speak in complete sentences. Others may be able to speak, but cannot understand what is being said to them.

Later in the disease, people with dementia cannot communicate concepts and plans. They may forget even simple verbs, until eventually they may be left with only a few words or phrases, or none at all.

In order to make up for the communication losses they are experiencing, it is important that you know the person, not just his or her disease. If you know the person, you will understand a lot about their life story, habits, routines and preferences. You will know what pleases and soothes them, and what frustrates them. You won’t necessarily be able to count on their words. They may be saying one thing, and thinking and feeling something completely different. Or, they may not be able to communicate with words at all. Instead, you need to “read” their feelings, behaviors, facial expressions and tone of voice.

The important thing to remember is that people with dementia are still communicating with us, even if their ability to use words, or to understand us, is gone. Research tells us that 7 percent of our message comes from what we say. The rest comes from the pitch and tone of our voice (38 percent) and our body language (55 percent). This is incredibly important. People with dementia who have lost much of their ability to speak and understand words usually continue to have an amazing ability to “feel” non-verbals, such as body language and tone of voice. Learning how to use these tools can improve communication with the elderly who have this disease.

To find out how we can help, call the Yukio Okutsu State Veterans Home in Hilo at (808) 961-1500. We are located at 1180 Waianuenue Ave.


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