Strength-Based Communication with Your Loved One Experiencing Dementia

Having Trouble Communicating with Your Loved One with Dementia?

“Don’t you remember???”  So often I hear people attempting to help the person with dementia, by reminding, explaining and quizzing.  While well intended, they are actually creating frustration for themselves and their loved ones by talking to the front part of the brain, the part that is not working as well as it once did.

The brain is an organ, like the heart or the lungs.   If someone has congestive heart failure, we accept that they need to walk shorter distances at a time, and put their feet up to support circulation in their legs. We don’t say to them, “Come on, you can run these stairs if you just try.”  We respectfully meet them where they’re at by saying, “Here, let me get you a chair.”

Similarly, to meet the confused person where they are at, we want to focus on all the strengths they still have.  The front part of the brain that does reasoning, sequencing, analyzing, determining cause and effect, logic, and impulse control may not be functioning as well as it once did.  The feeling-based thinking, however, located further back in the brain, is working well.

If for example, your loved one resists going to the doctor, saying “Why do I have to go to the doctor?” giving all the reasons they need to see the doctor, requires their front brain to process a lot of information. We feel like we are offering dignity by explaining: “It is time for your 90 day check-up. Remember, your doctor wanted to check that spot on your arm again.  And while we’re there, I’d like you to talk about the incontinence you’re experiencing.  I think you’re drinking too much water at night, but maybe you need medication or have an infection….” Yikes. This is front –brain overload, and while your intent is honorable, the results can be disastrous.  It is much more effective and kinder to both of you to deliver a response that meets your loved one where they are strong, in the feeling centers of the brain.  Do your best to identify the source of the resistance, which may be fear. Related fears may be fear of the unknown, of needles, of being alone etc.  A more calming response may be, “It’s just a check-up.  I’ll stay with you the whole time.”  Now, you’re addressing the real cause of the resistance.  This approach, being strength-based, is easier on both of you.  This is one type of strength-based communication.

Another example of strength-based communication honors the strength the individual has to read non-verbal language.  If you are saying “Don’t worry about the spill”, but your nonverbal language is telling the story “I’m so irritated that you spilled your drink and I have to clean up this mess”, the person will read your nonverbal language with more ease.  Sometimes taking a deep breath and putting a genuine smile on your face helps ease this communication gap.  Humor can come in handy too.

Behavior consultants can help guide you to more effective communication with your loved one.  This will result in a better quality of life and improved relationships for all involved.  If you think this would be helpful in your situation, call Marya Kain, for a complimentary consultation.  Find out if behavior consulting would be valuable and how to get started.  If other resources would be more beneficial, Marya will guide you in the right direction.