Communication Tips for Caregivers

Elaine Whitford Give_Receive_Care

Caregiving involves many challenges, some of these require learning new skills. Being flexible and trying new things can help. Caregivers may need to develop new ways to relate to a family member if his or her ability to communicate or remember things is impaired by an illness such as dementia or Alzheimer’s.

During a recent Caregiver Academy retreat, Lou Paules, Caregiver Consultant, shared dementia communication tips. Watch this video to see some of the tips below this video put into action.

Communication Tips for Caregivers
Be upbeat. People respond to our body posture, facial expression, and tone of voice more than our actual words. Your upbeat mood can help keep the person you are dealing with remain calmer.
Pay attention to the non-verbal clues. Understanding feelings may be more important than the content of the conversation. Acknowledge feelings whenever possible.
Keep communication simple. Give one command at a time. Make eye contact before beginning to speak. Keep distractions to a minimum, for example turn off the TV or radio and stop background conversations, when you are interacting with someone with dementia.
Make decision-making easy. Do not ask “What do you want for dinner?” but rather “Would you like spaghetti or hamburger for dinner?” Giving them a choice between two options can make meal planning easier for you and less frustrating for them.
Give short explanations. Long explanations of why someone should do something are lost on a person with dementia. Their ability to follow your argument or to follow through on agreements is limited.
Don’t argue. Arguing will increase agitation. Walk away and calm down, if possible, before continuing an interaction that leads to anger for you or your loved one.
Give positive feedback. This gives encouragement, especially for approximations of the desired behavior.
Share memories and reminisce. These are a way to maintain interaction with someone with memory loss.
Use distractions when someone is repeating a question over and over or retelling the same story.
Model for the person what you want them to do. Use this technique if verbal cues aren’t working. For example, to start someone eating, pick up your fork, put another fork in the person’s hand, and start the eating process for yourself, encouraging him/her to do what you are doing.
• Early in the illness, people often lose nouns, the names of objects. You can try and guess what they are saying or substitute the right word if you know it. Have the person point to or show you what he/she is talking about.
Call the person by name and identify yourself: “Hi Mom, it’s me, Mary.”

This tip sheet was prepared by Family Caregiver Alliance. © 2012 Family Caregiver Alliance. All rights reserved