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Navigating Communication During the Middle Stage of Dementia

Published in Senior Living, Senior Services, For the Health of It Author: Jessalyn Middendorf, LPN, MBA, MPH, Benedict Court & Benedict Homes Director

As dementia progresses into what is referred to as the middle stage, people often wonder how long this stage will last. The difficult answer is no one knows. However, the middle stage of dementia is typically the longest and can last for several years. The hindered ability to express thoughts, feelings and perform routine tasks without assistance is more pronounced at this stage due to nerve cell damage in the brain. Caregivers may see frustration and anger come from their loved one as they struggle to express their wants and needs — even daily hygiene tasks may be refused.

The person living with dementia can still live a meaningful life and participate in daily activities with assistance. Understanding the person’s abilities while living with dementia, and learning to effectively communicate with them, is important for all involved.

Tips for successful communication:

  • Allow time for response so the person can think about what he or she wants to say.
  • Engage the person in one-on-one conversation in a quiet space with minimal distractions.
  • Be patient and supportive. Offering comfort and reassurance can encourage the person to explain his or her thoughts.
  • Maintain good eye contact. It shows you care about what he or she is saying.
  • Avoid criticizing or correcting. Instead, listen and try to find the meaning in what is being said. Repeat what was said to clarify the thought.
  • Avoid arguing. If the person says something you don’t agree with, let it be.
  • Don’t overwhelm the person with lengthy requests that require complex thinking. Instead, break down tasks with clear, step-by-step instructions. For example, “First, let us put on your socks. Next, let us put on your shoes.”
  • Give visual cues. To help demonstrate the task, point to or touch the item you want the individual to use. Or begin the task for the person.
  • Speak slowly and clearly.
  • Ask one question at a time. Multiple questions at one time can be overwhelming.
  • Ask questions that require a yes or no answer. For example, “Would you like some coffee?” rather than “What would you like to drink?”

Caring for a person with dementia can be difficult, especially when communication can be a barrier. A break may be needed from time-to-time. Respite care allows for the person with dementia to temporarily stay at a place that provides care while engaging in meaningful activities. An adult day center is also an option to explore when overnight stays are not desired.

Caregivers may feel guilt over the struggles of caring for their loved one or even at the thought of considering a temporary or permanent placement. It can be difficult to watch the disease progress. However, it is important to recognize those feelings and be compassionate with oneself. Successful communication extends beyond the caregiver and person with dementia. Caregivers need to communicate for themselves as well. Ask for help, join a friend for coffee or tea, or have a chat with the neighbor. Afterall, being a caregiver is courageous.

Having a loved one who is experiencing memory loss issues is frightening — for both of you. Sometimes you need help and support from professionals who you can trust. CentraCare – Benedict Homes offers Respite Stays so caregivers have a chance to rest and recharge. Call 320-203-2747 to learn more.