Learning to communicate with someone with dementia is like learning a new language. You have to practise, sometimes you get it wrong, and it takes great patience.
But when you actually communicate, it's immensely satisfying for everyone.
Here are some tools for your box.
1) Ask questions that require "yes" or "no" answers. For someone with limited speech, this may be the only way they can communicate. It's difficult, so if you know you are going into that kind of a situation, go armed with several questions to carry the conversation. When you are using these, intersperse monologue, Again, think ahead of cute or funny stories, or reminiscences to which the person may relate. It doesn't matter if they remember. Just tell the story as if for the first time. I am always telling stories about my dog, or funny things I have done. My reward is a huge smile.
2) Don't correct information. It doesn't matter if they get it wrong, and you risk making them angry or sad through pointing out their mistakes.
3) Ask questions about the good old days. Besides having conversation, you may find out some valuable information.
4) Related to #3--ask advice. "Mom, I have to make Thanksgiving dinner this year. What would you serve? What do you think of squash? Should I have turnip too?"
5) Have your radar up. If communication isn't going well, watch for clues. Are they tired? Do they need to go to the bathroom? Are they ill? Watch for non-verbal clues.
6) Sometimes you go down a conversational path that doesn't work, and the person becomes angry or agitated. Try agreeing with them. I agree in all kinds of situations, "Yes, you're right, that was stupid." and then distract if possible. "I feel like going for a walk. Would you like to come with me?" "Should we have some ice cream?" (Remember this--ICE CREAM IS A GREAT DISTRACTER!) Not to be overused, but it's amazing how a person will calm down with a bowl of ice cream in front of them.
7) Don't get discouraged by a conversation that doesn't work or an unsuccessful visit. If it's possible to come back later, do that. If not, try again next time. Some visits will be magic!
8) Be patient.
9) Be patient.
10) Be patient.
Next week: How to communicate with someone who lives in a different reality from you.