Caregiving and Communicating through Dementia


Caregiving and communicating when your parent has dementia can be challenging.

I've spent time in the "fun house" world of mother's dementia, where my name was Alice not Janice and the game of "where is my purse?" went caregiving, dementiaon all morning.  Caregiving was exhausting. I wasted a lot of time and energy correcting my mom until I realized that when it comes to dementia, too much reality can be a bad thing.

It's hard to give up on "reality" and stop correcting a parent with dementia.  Arguing about what's true makes things worse and the caregiving so much harder.  You both become frustrated.

Even if you succeed in the short run, she may be back in five minutes with the same question or concern due to her dementia and faulty short term memory.  You're stuck in an endless loop of correcting and forgetting.

Tips for communicating through dementia

  • Stay calm.
  • Avoid correcting or contradicting your parent.
  • Speak to the emotion under the words.

Effective communication in dementia caregiving starts with you.  Avoid caregiving when you feel frustrated or angry.  When you get upset, leave the room, take a walk or do some deep breathing until you feel calmer. While your parent with dementia may not know what year it is or who you are, he will be able to tune into your frustration.

Don't correct your parent. Instead of correcting, get curious about what your parent is trying to communicate through the dementia.  Enter his world. What feeling is underneath the words?  As your parent's connection to the present becomes weak, he may pull unresolved issues into the present moment.  What old business might he be trying to solve?

Your caregiving communication technique can create more peace for both of you.

  • Offer your full attention and make eye contact with your parent.
  • Match his emotional intensity. Echo back what he says using some of his own words. This helps the person with dementia feel understood.
  • Ask questions that help you understand the emotions beneath the words.
  • Gradually shift the focus of the conversation onto another topic or activity.

Communicating on an emotional level is the best way to connect with your parent.

What's the biggest communication challenge you have when caring for your parent with dementia?

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--Janice Wallace