Advice Mind & Memory Care

Proven Communication Techniques that Help Foster Meaningful Moments for Those with Dementia

By Michelle Tristani, Corporate Director of Memory Care, Benchmark Senior Living

senior man in wheelchair with female caretaker

We all have the innate need to want to connect with those around us. However, those caring for someone with memory loss or who have a loved one with dementia may often find it hard to have those special moments they crave with the ones they love. Physical changes that happen to the brain as the disease progresses make it difficult for those with dementia to communicate. 

At Benchmark Senior Living, creating meaningful moments with our mind and memory care residents every day is at the heart of our culture of caring. Through in-depth profiles and discovery sessions, we get to know our residents and use specialized communication techniques to provide experiences that nurture our residents’ passions and connections. 

Over the past 23 years, we’ve developed a nationally award-winning communication program, Connect First. The program works to remove the barriers that can often lead to miscommunication, fear, and anxiety so that our residents can engage in programs and with people they care about. The principles of Connect First are ones in which everyone can benefit from no matter where their loved one is at in their dementia journey. They include: 

  • Provide choices – If you want to engage your loved one in an activity, give them two different options. For example, “would you like to look at photo albums with me or paint a picture?” 
  • Be present, stay aware and remain calm – These may seem obvious and critical for any positive interaction, but it can be easy to become frustrated or distracted.  
  • Make eye contact and be aware of your body language – You want them to know that you are focusing on them, and are receptive to what they have to communicate.
  • Look beyond words, verbal communication and speak simply – Where their verbal skills may be compromised, respond instead to the overall message. When responding, talk in short, simple sentences. Do not raise your volume unless the person has a hearing impairment.
  • Choose your words wisely - Use humor and self-disclosure as a means to connect. Also, match their emotions. Avoid saying, “calm down” if the person is upset.  
  • Use supportive questions – Things like “tell me more about it” can help keep the social exchange moving. It also helps set up more specific questions regarding communicative intent, emotional state, etc.
  • Think outside the verbal box - Use gestures, demonstrations and even short written messages in combination with your words to help deliver your message. 
  • What to do if your emotions get the best of you - If you make a mistake, remember that communication in the world of dementia requires skill and practice.  There are so many ways to say, “I am sorry, I made you feel ______.”  In this way, we de-escalate the situation and are given another chance at a positive connection.

At Benchmark, our mission is guided by our core values - Called to Care, Better Together and Be the Benchmark. We are pleased to be a trusted resource for older people and their loved ones. If we can be of help to you, please do not hesitate to contact us.

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