Dementia is a syndrome that involves a gradual and continual loss of intellectual function, which leads to memory loss and cognitive impairment. A link between the breakdown of cognitive skills and speech is most evident in these cases. Patients with dementia have difficulties in communication, which often leads to feelings of agitation. A breakdown in communication between elderly with speech difficulties and their loved ones can be frustrating. Below are some factors that can lead to communication problems, and tips on how to alleviate them.
Memory loss in the elderly can lead to difficulties in retaining information and carrying out complex tasks. A low concentration span and mood swings, with increased irritability levels, can also accompany cognitive impairment. All of this can lead to difficulty in speech and communication.
When carers get frustrated, their speech is either too fast or takes on a tone that causes stress to the listener. They may overload their communication with too much information or unnecessary gestures, which in turn distracts the listener, adding to their stress. A frustrated carer may adopt an improper tone of voice, such as shouting or being condescending, which may cause the listener to feel further threatened.
Noisy environments and environments with poor lighting have also been shown to be detrimental to communication, especially for those with cognitive difficulties. These factors interrupt communication and make it difficult for people to perceive their surroundings.
Maintaining Good Communication
While the above may be difficult to reconcile, there are ways to alleviate communication issues caused by cognitive impairment. The following methods can help establish an environment that is ideal for good communication, letting both parties engage in a conversation that is respectful and comfortable.
- Maintain a quiet environment, turning off all unnecessary devices such as radios or televisions.
- Both parties should sit face-to-face, and maintain constant and respectful eye contact.
- Speak slowly and clearly, enunciating your words. For those with hearing difficulties, encourage the use of hearing aids.
- Keep sentences simple and to the point. Convey one message at a time and use direct references. Avoid abstractions.
- Ask close-ended questions with limited answer choices so as to not overwhelm the listener. “Would you like to go for a walk at the beach or the park today?” is better than “Do you want to go out?”
- Pay attention to facial expressions and body language to see how the listener is feeling. Respond to these feelings appropriately.
- Be patient and repeat yourself or prompt the listener if necessary.
- Use objects with clear meanings as communication aids. For instance, if it is time for a bath, show the listener a towel and soap to indicate this.
- Short conversations are ideal as listeners may have difficulties concentrating for a longer period of time.
- If you notice that the listener is tired, let them take a break before picking up the conversation again. You can offer them a light refreshment while displaying gentle, encouraging the behavior.
Caring for Those with Communication Difficulties
While a decline in cognitive skills can impact speech, there are ways to help alleviate these difficulties. Above all, a caring attitude and a good understanding of your loved one’s situation are important for communication and to prevent feelings of loneliness and isolation. Knowing how to care for the elderly with dementia is also important for their mental and physical wellbeing.