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How To Talk To Someone With Dementia On The Phone

Dont Ask A Person With Short

How to talk on the phone to someone with dementia?

A patient and/or loved one can construe even the simplest of conversation starters as a real question, but they honestly dont know the answer to it. This can be embarrassing and can send them back into a fogthey try their best to give an answer that makes sense to them and often produce immediate physical concerns: I’m having a lot of pain, for example. A caregiver and/or family member might ask, What did you have for breakfast? and the person with memory loss doesn’t remember at all. They might say earnestly, I haven’t had anything to eat for weeks, . So these are questions to avoid because it causes fear for the person, that they have failed. But there are things you can talk about

How Does Dementia Affect Communication

The effects of dementia on the brain can worsen a persons:

  • Communication and cognition
  • Visual perception
  • Problem-solving skills

Signs of dementia begin when healthy neurons or nerve cells in the brain stop working with other brain cells and die, according to the National Institute of Neurological Disorders and Stroke. While losing neurons is more common with age, people with dementia experience a severe loss of neurons, which can contribute to personality changes, a decrease in communication skills, and losing emotional control.

Moving To A Care Home

If the persons needs become too great for you to manage at home, you may need to consider other long-term options. If youre becoming exhausted or the person with dementia is becoming harder to care for, a care home might be the best option for you both.

A move to a care home can be a difficult decision, but there are limits to the care you can provide.

If the person you care for is moving into a care home, familiar furniture, belongings or music can help them feel more settled.

Recommended Reading: Alzheimer’s And Dementia Ribbon

Common Frustrations & Difficulties

Communicating with a person with memory loss can be difficult, but the right strategies can bridge the gap and foster a more fulfilling relationship between the patient and/or loved one. For caregiverswhether you’re a professional or a family member caring for a loved oneits important to adopt a positive attitude to effectively communicate.

Engaging with patients and/or loved ones in an encouraging and patient manner will help minimize feelings of frustration. If you’re struggling to connect with a patient and/or loved one with memory loss, its important to know a few common frustrations and traps and how you can avoid them.

First, remind yourself that people with dementia and/or Alzheimers only have the present moment, so we can let them know that we enjoy their company. When caring for someone who has the disease, the most important thing to take care of is that persons feelings. A person with memory loss cant remember the minute before, they dont know whats going to happen in the next minute. They cant do that kind of thinking, so how they feel right now is the most important thing to pay attention to.

Dont Just Talk Loudly

Communicating with someone with dementia in care homes

Not every person with dementia has a hearing impairment, and using a loud tone can make them feel like you are yelling at them. Use a clear, normal tone of voice to start a conversation with someone.

If the person doesnt respond or you become aware that they have a hearing problem, you can increase your volume. Speaking in a slightly lower register can also help if someone has a hearing problem.

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How To Conduct Your Interview

Control your phone call environment.

  • Minimise background noises such as televisions or noisy office environments .
  • Don’t take other calls or respond to texts or emails focus on the person with dementia and having a great conversation with them.
  • Don’t eat or drink – munching, slurping and swallowing sound horrid and may be amplified through the phone – and definitely don’t talk while eating as it will distort the sound of your voice.
  • Only use speakerphone if you’re sure there is enough privacy, that there will be no interruptions and you are comfortable with this way of using a phone.
  • Get yourself positioned so you can take any notes easily during the call.

Prepare yourself to communicate really clearly.

  • Sit upright to help you project your voice clearly.
  • Stay calm
  • Before you dial, take a couple of deep breaths… and smile! It will show in your voice.
  • Speak clearly and at a reasonable pace.
  • Dont slouch on the couch it will reduce your ability to project well and might make it harder for the person to understand what you are saying.
  • Remember, if you dont hear or cant understand something a person with dementia says, it’s fine to ask for clarification.

Be professional

Use an interview framework. It should include:

  • Build rapport so that the person feels able to be open with you: avoid being judgemental, focus on being in the moment and show empathy.
  • Use a range of question types to gather information
  • Ask follow on questions
  • asking leading questions may skew your answers
  • Confirm Understanding Of What Has Been Said

    Words used by a person with dementia dont always make sense. If you have a good relationship with and knowledge of the person you can probably guess the meaning. But it is important not to assume what has been said. Try to check you are on the right track by repeating a word or phrase used, or suggest other words to confirm understanding of what has been said.

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    Dont Expect Them To Conform To Present

    As strange as that may sound, learn how to enter into the patients/loved one’s world and not expect them to conform to our present day. As Diane Waugh, BSN, RN, CDP, says in the video above: When I had to deal with memory loss with my own mother, I found the hardest thing for me to do was to not try to drag her into my reality, but to go live where she was living, in her understanding.

    Caregivers and/or family members should remember: give up expectations of the patient and/or loved one . Giving up expectations can make room for what the patient and/or loved one’s strengths are .

    Listening To And Understanding Someone With A Dementia

    How to Talk to Someone With Dementia

    Communication is a two-way process. If you are a carer of someone with dementia, you will probably have to learn to listen more carefully.

    Active listening can help to improve communication between you and the person you’re caring for.

    Active listening includes:

    • using eye contact to look at the person, and encouraging them to look at you when either of you are talking
    • trying not to interrupt them, even if you think you know what they’re saying
    • stopping what you’re doing so you can give the person your full attention while they speak
    • minimising distractions that may get in the way of communication, such as the television or the radio playing too loudly, but always check if it’s OK to do so
    • repeating what you heard back to the person and asking if it’s accurate, or asking them to repeat what they said

    Find out more about communicating with people with dementia on the NHS website.

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    It May Feel Like The First Time For The Person With Dementia

    Short-term memory loss in a person with dementia can prove challenging for family and friends and when providing care and support. While you may see the person several times during a day, each visit may feel like the first for them. This can have a great impact on a conversation, so consider how you would respond. The best approach for a care worker in these circumstances may be to introduce yourself on each visit and explain why you are there.

    Identify The Emotional State Of The Response

    How is this person feeling? If they have been able to speak, what do the words convey? What does their tone of voice convey? What does their facial expression tell you? What does their body position tell you? What does their respiration rate tell you? Is there any indication that the person is in physical discomfort or pain?

    Observing the above will help family members, friends and care staff to achieve better understanding in a conversation. In dementia care you need to listen with your eyes and your ears.

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    Be Patient And Avoid Jumping In

    Its best to give your loved one extra time to process what you say. If you ask a question, patiently wait for their response and avoid rushing an answer. Get comfortable with silence while your loved one is thinking.

    When your loved one is struggling for a word, it can be tempting to jump in. But rather than helping, you may unintentionally derail their thought process, Gurung says.

    Think About How The Person May Be Feeling

    Tips For Talking To Someone With Dementia infographic

    Try to put yourself in their shoes or seat. What is their emotional state likely to be? Are they relaxed and happy or anxious and distressed? Are they calm or frightened? Are they likely to respond to humour or are they angry and frustrated? You may be aware of whats been happening to them prior to your conversation. If not, try to find out so you can think about your approach.

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    Raz Memory Cell Phone A True Dementia Phone

    The RAZ Memory Cell Phone is the only cell phone specifically designed for individuals with dementia or Alzheimers. The phones basic approach is straightforward: make it as simple as possible for the user, while providing the caregiver the ability to control the more complicated features of the phone remotely through an online portal. The phone only supports calling.

    Have A Plan For The Kids

    Expecting your children, especially young ones, to sit through a visit with an older relative may be asking too much. People with dementia often lose their filters which can make for awkward conversations around little ones. Plus, children can be distracting to your relative and may make it difficult for them to focus on you.

    Instead of requiring children to spend the entire visit attentive to the conversation, bring along something to occupy their time. They may be able to watch a movie on an iPad or work on homework while you talk to your loved one.

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    Things Not To Say To Someone Living With Dementia

    It can be difficult to know what to say to someone diagnosed with dementia. Often they dont disclose their diagnosis in the early years so you can tell at times that something is not quite right. You dont know why they are different to how you have always known them and you dont want to guess or ask for fear of being wrong and offending your relative or friend. Likewise, if you have a friend who has been diagnosed with dementia it can be difficult to know what to say and how best to support them.

    Dementia can affect an individual in various ways, depending what caused the dementia, what state of health the individual was in prior to the onset of the condition and how their brain is uniquely affected.

    The author of this list, 20 Things Not to Say to Someone with Dementia, Kate Swaffer is living with dementia and makes some great points here.Kate has asked us to include the following when sharing her 20 point list.

    If it is possible to positively impact the life of even one more person living with dementia, then it would not matter how many people without dementia disagreed with me.

    Kate Swaffer recently wrote:

    The development of this list has sometimes been taken the wrong way by family care partners. It was not written to upset or criticise care partners but to help them understand that a few changes to the way they are, when around people with dementia, might improve our experience of dementia and therefore make their job easier.

    2. Dont tell us we are wrong.

    Encouraging Someone With Dementia To Communicate


    Try to start conversations with the person you’re looking after, especially if you notice that they’re starting fewer conversations themselves. It can help to:

    • speak clearly and slowly, using short sentences
    • make eye contact with the person when they’re talking or asking questions
    • give them time to respond, because they may feel pressured if you try to speed up their answers
    • encourage them to join in conversations with others, where possible
    • let them speak for themselves during discussions about their welfare or health issues
    • try not to patronise them, or ridicule what they say
    • acknowledge what they have said, even if they do not answer your question, or what they say seems out of context show that you’ve heard them and encourage them to say more about their answer
    • give them simple choices avoid creating complicated choices or options for them
    • use other ways to communicate such as rephrasing questions because they cannot answer in the way they used to

    The Alzheimer’s Society has lots of information that can help, including details on the progression of dementia and communicating.

    Recommended Reading: Progressive Aphasia Dementia

    Should You Tell The Person They Have Alzheimer’s

    Families may frequently ask, Should I tell the person that he/she has Alzheimer’s? Keep in mind that the patient and/or loved one can’t reason. They don’t have enough memory to remember the question, then think it through to form a conclusion. Caregivers and/or family members may often think if they tell the person with memory loss that he/she has Alzheimer’s, then he/she will understand and cooperate. You cant get cooperation by explaining that he/she has the disease and expect him/her to remember and use that information.

    Dont Counter Aggressive Behavior

    People with dementia and/or Alzheimer’s may become aggressive in response to the environment. Bath time is often when the aggressive behavior is displayed. The caregivers and/or family member’s approach may also play a part. Rushing, speaking harshly, or forcing a person may result in an aggressive response. When someone with memory loss displays aggressive behavior, it is a form of communication. It may be the only way a person has left to say, Pay attention to me! I don’t want to take a bath! When someone is communicating vigorously, it is the caregivers and/or family member’s job to respect that communication. Hitting, kicking, or biting are ways of saying, stop. The appropriate response is to stop. That doesnt mean not to try again in five minutes or a half an hour.

    Read Also: Ribbon Color For Alzheimer’s

    Make The Conversation Low

    Speaking of questions, I always try to word everything in a way that makes it ok if the person Im asking doesnt have an answer. Instead of Why did you, I use Why do you think to start questions. Using Do you remember also works well although I try not to use it too often. I dont want my loved one to feel bad if she is constantly answering no.

    Another way to keep the conversation going is to bring up a favorite memory you have of the past. You can bring up a couple key details and then pause to see if your loved one will fill in a few more.

    Faqs About Dementia And The Phone

    Properly Talking to Residents With Dementia or Alzheimer

    How do you talk to someone with dementia on the phone?

    The most important thing think to do when talking to someone with dementia on the phone is to communicate your love. You do this just with the tone of your voice and by continuing to talk. If they ask about the weather or how your day was, this is a cue that they are enjoying talking, but dont know what to say. Tell them happy stories about your life. Also tell them funny stories that you remember from times in the past spent with them. Resist the impulse to correct them. It can help to make a list of topics beforehand so that you dont run out of things to say. Last but not least, communicate a good mood because people experiencing dementia absorb the moods of others around them and are often unable to shake a bad mood on their own.

    What should/can I do when a person with dementia is calling constantly?

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    How To Finish The Conversation

    Just as you prepared to start a conversation, so you must think about how you will bring it to a close. If you are leaving the persons home, make sure you say goodbye. You should not leave the person thinking you are still in their home, perhaps in another room. This may cause confusion or anxiety.

    Ensure you have their attention, smile, and let them know you enjoyed your time together and the conversation. Shaking their hand or touching them is a common gesture which gives them a strong clue you are leaving. Leave them reassured and let them know you look forward to talking again. If you are likely to be speaking to them very soon, for example later that day, say when you will return and leave a note close by indicating when the next visit will be.

    How To Talk To Someone With Dementia Alzheimer’s Or Memory Loss

    Communicating with a person with memory loss can be difficult, but the right strategies can bridge the gap and foster a more fulfilling relationship between you and your patient or loved one.

    Those struggling to communicate with a person who has memory loss are not alone. As many as four million people in the US may have Alzheimer’s, and, as our population ages, that number is expected to increase. Anyone who is a senior caregiver is likely to be affected and will need to understand how to cope with what is happening.

    Memory loss associated with aging, dementia, and Alzheimer’s typically doesnt happen overnight. Slowly, little-by-little, it sneaks up, until one day, family members realize that they can no longer communicate in the same way with the person they’ve known for years. They suddenly can’t rely on their words and their sentences dont match the situation.

    Because we cannot see the diseasethe way we see a broken armits even more confusing when caregivers see how their patient and/or loved one will have good and bad days. The days when theyre alert and clear-headed make a caregiver hopeful. Then the bad days come, and family members and caregivers feel the pain of losing their patient and/or loved one all over again. This slow and normal progression of the disease makes communication a major challenge for caregivers.

    This blog will share more information and advice to improve communication, including:

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