The 5 ways you can “speak” with someone who is living with dementia

For many carers, and as I have found myself with family, what can be one of the most frustrating challenges is when you need or try to have meaningful conversation with someone who has dementia. Alzheimer’s is a serious neurological disease that put simply, steals the person of their character and identity. Their memories become distorted and their everyday skills become affected. Everyday speech and dialogue is something that I can take for granted. However, when such things are affected by Alzheimer’s, these emotional connections you have with others can suffer. Our language and speech requires very complex neurological skills. What we say has to be accurately processed by our brain and then our vocal response delivered to complete the ongoing dialogue. However, anyone who has Alzheimer’s deteriorates neurologically, and so their language and power of speech worsens, into eventual mumbling words. I know this, as I have seen it. This is devastating for any family when their loved one cannot even manage to say “Hello” to them. Or cannot answer a simple question, or worse still share their family memories. Therefore, having experienced this brought new doors for me to try and open. And from this, I discovered what worked and what didn’t. Touch: Touching someone with a shoulder squeeze, cupping another’s hands, a hug, etc. instantly launches a cascade of wonderful endorphins and pleasure.

When verbal conversation is no longer viable, communicate your feelings through gentle touching hands along with words. The person with Dementia who cannot “talk” so easily anymore may still say “Hi, I love you” or “Thank you” with a gentle touch or squeeze of the hand. Taste: As far as I know, there are 5 distinct tastes: Sweet, Sour, Salty, Bitter and Savoury. Although our own personal tastes can sometimes vary, I have read that most Alzheimer’s sufferers like foods that taste sweet, this maybe because a sweet taste lasts longest on our palate. Smell: I easily associate “smells” with and from my childhood experiences, such as Candy Floss at Fayres and Carnivals. So at the same time, certain smells from foods or flowers maybe relevant to someone else who has that same way of associating a particular smell with a time or place in their past/memory. Sound: I am sure we have all experienced hearing that bump in the night, or a car door shutting outside in the early hours of the morning. Thereafter, it is sometimes hard to get back to sleep again, especially when we are in an unfamiliar place, and hear an unusual sound. Therefore, familiar sounds can be personally very comforting and also remind us of events that are from our past: A particular song or singer or even the kettle whistling on the oven hob.

Music is a very effective tool to help stimulate connections with an Alzheimer’s sufferer. Singing in particular uses certain parts of the brain. In fact it will come as no surprise that I know of many Care Homes and Day Care centres where singing is encouraged and part of the residents daily activities. Sight: Sight deteriorates in someone who has Dementia. However, photo albums with photos of family and old friends are especially meaningful to most people, not just those who have dementia. These photos can trigger loving memories, and these memories can continues long after the spoken word is lost. Familiar objects from their past can also ignite engaging connections. Therefore, search through your house including the loft and garage for anything that maybe memorable to your loved one. For example, an old dial face phone, recipe book, golf gloves or even gardening tools they once loved to use. My Grandmother related very well, to an old record player and sewing kit. Therefore, with all things considered and once the spoken word is lost, try making communication via touch, foods and fragrances that mean something to them that help stimulate them. This can also be done by playing music and singing songs to them. Familiar objects, especially photos or maybe even a pen they used all their life then show them that as well. What this sometimes triggers is eye opening.

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