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How to Talk to a Parent with Dementia

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A woman having a fun conversation with her older adult mother.

An individual who develops dementia may begin experiencing difficulties with their everyday life. Taking care of themselves and communicating can both become increasingly difficult. Some tips for talking to a parent with dementia include:

  • Use simple language and short sentences
  • Listen actively and respond with empathy
  • Use visual aids and gestures
  • Create a calm and comfortable environment
  • Be patient and flexible

Keep in mind that none of these are a blanket solution or necessary. For example, you may not need visual aids or simple language if your parent is in the early stages of dementia. The key is to use your intimate knowledge of your parent and their capabilities to help inform how you talk to them.

And when you need a break, remember that respite care can provide much-needed assistance to give you a temporary break from being your parent’s primary caregiver. You can rest assured knowing your loved one receives professional care when using a respite care service.

What Is Dementia?

Dementia is not a specific disease but a group of symptoms that affect cognitive abilities such as memory, language, and judgment. Damage to brain cells, which affects communication between cells, is considered a primary root cause. Alzheimer’s disease is the most common type of Dementia that starts with minor memory loss and later affects thinking and behavior.

Symptoms of Dementia

The symptoms of dementia vary depending on the type and the severity of the condition, but the most common symptoms include memory loss, difficulty communicating, mood changes, confusion, and difficulty with things that never used to be difficult.

Adults with dementia might lose track of time and direction, find it hard to make decisions and become disoriented. They might also experience difficulty performing daily activities, such as dressing or eating.

Treating Dementia

An older adult undergoing cognitive stimulation therapy.

There is currently no cure for dementia, but there are treatments and care options that can improve quality of life. Such treatments may include: 

How to Talk to a Parent with Dementia

There isn’t a single “best” way to talk to your parent with dementia. It’ll ultimately depend on how far the condition has progressed and their abilities. 

Use Simple Language & Short Sentences

People with dementia may struggle to follow complex language and long sentences. Using short, simple words and sentences can help them understand better. It’s also essential to speak slowly and clearly, enunciating each word. Avoid speaking in a condescending or patronizing tone, as this can be demeaning. Instead, show patience and empathy towards your parent as you communicate with them.

Listen Actively & Respond with Empathy

Active listening is crucial when communicating with someone with dementia. Your parent may not always remember what they said or what they were trying to say. Actively listening and responding with empathy can help them feel heard and validated. Avoid interrupting or finishing their sentences for them. Instead, allow them to express themselves fully, then respond with calmness and compassion.

Use Visual Aids & Gestures

Dementia can affect an individual’s ability to understand language and remember things. Using visual aids, such as pictures or videos, can help your parent understand better. Simple gestures, such as pointing to objects or using facial expressions, can help them grasp what you’re trying to convey. Avoid using abstract concepts or ideas without visual aids, as this can confuse them.

Create a Calm & Comfortable Environment

People with dementia can be easily overwhelmed by noise, bright lights, and cluttered spaces. Creating a calm and comfortable environment can help ease their anxiety and confusion. Choose a quiet and well-lit room to talk in, and make sure there are no distractions. Turn off the TV or radio, and avoid having too many people in the room at once. Being in a peaceful environment can help your parent focus on the conversation more effectively.

Be Patient & Flexible

Dementia can impact a person’s ability to communicate in different ways. On some days, your parent may be more responsive than others. Being patient and flexible can help you adjust to their communication needs. If they seem confused or frustrated, take a break and return to the conversation later. Remember that their condition is not their fault, and try not to take any resistance or negativity personally.

Find the Support You Need

Caregiving for someone with dementia can be challenging, but there are resources and support available for both the parent and their caregivers. Support groups, respite care, and home health services can provide help and relief for caregivers. It’s also crucial to create a safe and comfortable environment for someone with dementia, such as setting up a routine, installing safety features, and providing activities to stimulate their cognitive abilities.

We’re here if it’s time to consider more long-term care solutions like assisted living or memory care. Call our compassionate team at Fox Trail Memory Care at Park Ridge to book a community tour. We’re happy to show you and your loved one the level of care and quality of life they can expect in our community.

Ryan Donahue

Written by Ryan Donahue, Regional Vice President

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