It’s hard being the caregiver to a dementia patient.
As a professional caregiver you have an advantage: You are not emotionally involved in your patient’s life or distressed by their loss of awareness. You also have the opportunity to learn from multiple cases, unlike most family members. This will give you experience you can use to be a reassuring and positive presence for both the patient and family.
Still, it can be distressing for both you and your client when they are unable to remember important things or communicate effectively. Dementia can also cause mood swings and difficult behavioral issues.
You’ll need patience, understanding and persistence to minimize frustration, improve understanding and compliance, and effectively provide compassionate care.
Here are some strategies that can help you be an effective communicator:
Create a positive communication experience.
Your patient may be confused and disoriented, but they can still be surprisingly sensitive to stress and emotion. Use a pleasant voice and gentle physical contact to provide a soothing tone and improve receptivity to your message.
Begin by always using their name, and if necessary remind them of your name and what your role and purpose are for being there.
If they are seated or lying down, bring your face to their level and make eye contact if possible. You may be the first person to do so that day, and that can really improve their attention and mood.
Limit environmental distractions.
Help them focus on you. Limiting distractions and minimizing noise can go a long way to gaining and maintaining their attention. Don’t try to compete with the TV or radio—turn them down or even off while you talk.
Busy environments can interfere with your interaction, so shut the door and draw blinds and curtains if possible, or at least position yourself so the patient is turned away from distracting noises and movement.
Speak more clearly, not more loudly.
Of course, speak loudly enough to be heard if the patient has a hearing deficit. But beyond that, lowering your voice can be an effective way to make them focus on you. No one likes to be shouted at.
If the patient doesn’t understand, try not to raise your voice. Instead, wait a second or two to give them more time to process what they heard, then repeat what you said.
Be consistent. If you say the same thing twice, they’ll have another chance to understand what they missed the first time. Then if that doesn’t work, rephrase the message.
When you speak about other people, use their names again, not “he” or “she.” This will help their comprehension.
Keep it simple and break it down.
Any questions you ask should have simple “yes” or “no” answers. Break down complex plans into a simpler parts, and get their confirmation each step of the way.
If they get confused, back up to the last thing they agreed upon, and resume from there. If they have trouble comprehending a particular step, give them a visual cue, such as showing them their coat, fork and spoon, etc.
Empower your patient and improve their self-esteem.
Each patient is different. Some like to try to do things themselves, so be ready to help but let them take pride in what they can accomplish on their own.
Others are more passive or easily frustrated and you’ll need to encourage them. Compliment them on their successes, no matter how small.
Work with their strengths.
While the dementia patient may not recall what they did that morning, they’ll likely have clear memories to share from their youth. You’ll be amazed at the stories they have to tell.
You can turn that into a motivator: encourage them to cooperate with their care by promising them an opportunity to share their stories. This may improve their mood and foster cooperation with your requests—a win-win.
Bottom line: Couple your professional skills with a human touch to improve your dementia patients’ lives.
Next month we’ll discuss common dementia-associated behaviors and effective responses.
Contact us today for more information.