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How to Communicate During the Early Stages of Dementia

Published in Senior Living, Senior Services, For the Health of It Author: Jessalyn Middendorf, LPN, MBA, MPH, CentraCare – St. Cloud Benedict Court and Benedict Homes Director

The announcement by legendary singer Tony Bennett that he has Alzheimer’s has helped to raise awareness of dementia, which affects 50 million people throughout the world.

Early detection is important. There are differences between Alzheimer’s and typical age-related changes. Learn about the 10 warning signs and symptoms such as disruptive memory loss, difficulty completing familiar tasks, confusion with time or place, or withdrawal from work or social activities. Recognition of any of them should not be ignored. Rather, schedule an appointment to discuss with your doctor. There are treatment options to explore that may help alleviate symptoms as well as maintaining a longer period of independence.

Getting diagnosed with dementia is scary for the patients and their families. In the early stage of dementia, an individual is still able to participate in give-and-take dialogue, have meaningful conversations and engage in social activities. However, he or she may repeat stories, have difficulty finding the right word or feel overwhelmed by excessive stimulation.

Tips for successful communication:

  • Don’t make assumptions about a person’s ability to communicate because of a dementia diagnosis. The disease affects each person differently.
  • Don’t exclude the person from conversations with family and friends.
  • Speak directly to the person if you want to know how he or she is doing.
  • Take time to listen to how the person is feeling, what he or she is thinking and what his or her needs are.
  • Give the person time to respond. Don’t interrupt or finish sentences.
  • Talk with the person about what he or she is still comfortable doing and what they may need help with.
  • Explore which method of communication is most comfortable for the person. This could include email, phone calls or in-person conversations.

It’s OK to laugh. Sometimes humor lightens the mood and makes communication easier.

Seek out help and support — both for those diagnosed with dementia as well as their loved ones. There are national and local resources to provide information, guidance, and connection to others who are also facing a similar situation.