Boosting understanding for someone with dementia

There’s nothing worse than having to struggle to get your message across, and for people with dementia this can cause much frustration. Find out how to make communication easier

3 signs the person you're caring for feels understood

1. They are responsive to your prompts or questions and are usually happy to express what they want or need.
2. They are able to have a say in what they do because you let them lead the way through person-centred care.
3. Even if, during the later stages when talking becomes harder, they are unable to properly communicate, there are times when a flash of understanding or recognition can be seen in their eyes.

Developing a sense of understanding between you and the person you’re caring for can help to build a bond and ensure that they feel happy and contented.

Beating the obstacles to being understood

- Lack of awareness of the challenges
- Failure to communicate
- Stigma

Being able to recognise these challenges and tackle them can all help the person you're caring for feel understood. However, there are also steps you can take to boost levels of understanding between you both.

Tips for boosting understanding in someone with dementia

Go with the conversation flow
As dementia progresses, conversations may take on an interesting or surprising form. You may find they suddenly start talking about a completely random topic, perhaps because they were lost in a past memory or were thinking the conversation through in their head, rather than out loud. Just let the conversation flow, and don’t worry too much if it makes no sense to you. As far as the person with dementia is concerned, if you’re simply listening and responding (even if it sounds like nonsense to you), it will help them to feel better understood.

Eye and touch contact
One of the most important parts of communication is through eye contact. When the illness progresses and verbal communication declines, it is the eyes that can help someone feel understood. Likewise, a calming and friendly touch of the hand can become a simple but powerful demonstrate that you understand how they feel and you’re trying to help.

Use sign books and prompt cards
Using pictures and prompt cards can be useful if the person with dementia can’t verbalise what it is they want. For example, picking what they’re going to have for dinner, they may be able to point to a picture of a roast chicken and some potatoes rather than be able to explain what they want verbally.

Understand why behaviour happens
Try to remember that the person is not being deliberately difficult. Their sense of reality may be very different from yours and they are responding to their own needs. Being aware of the challenges that regularly crop up for someone with dementia – such as restlessness, agitation and helplessness and anticipating when these might occur can help them feel better connected and understood.

Know their history
Take time to find out what they’re interested in, from hobbies to favourite films or books, so that you can provide activities that will keep them busy and happy. Doing life story work an be useful for getting a better picture of someone, which can in turn help them to feel better understood.