Effective communication is essential to healthy, long-term relationships. When we aren’t able to express our thoughts and share our concerns with those we love, we often feel disconnected from the affection and support we receive through conversation. For those caring for a spouse or partner with dementia, struggling to communicate well has the potential to eat away at the relationship and make caregiving more difficult.
Rob Low, Community Relations Director at Clarity Pointe™ Pensacola, a memory care assisted living community in Pensacola, Florida, says, “As dementia progresses, it can affect a person’s ability to think clearly, find the right words and follow along in a conversation. For many affected by the disease, they begin to communicate in more nonverbal ways, such as through their behavior or attitude. They may withdraw from conversations due to frustration.
“Caregivers need to understand how dementia affects their loved one’s ability to communicate in order to provide support. Once you know how your loved one is struggling, you can adjust your own communication approach and form new strategies to make communication and conversation easier for both of you.”
Couples Need Effective Communication
When you’re caring for a partner with dementia, you can easily forget to build good communication strategies as you work tirelessly to meet their many needs. As a couple, you may settle into habits that enable you to get by without communicating much about your thoughts, fears and desires – the type of communication that keeps healthy relationships alive. Not only does your ability to provide care benefit from effective communication, but your emotional well-being and the closeness you feel to your partner thrive as well.
To avoid becoming emotionally isolated from one another, you can encourage your partner to communicate while you learn new ways to converse that bridge the gap dementia creates in their communication skills.
Communication is at the core of many strategies Karen Bruno suggests in her article, “7 Ways to Keep Your Relationship Strong Despite a Chronic Illness.” In addition to gaining information to meet your partner’s needs, communication plays a vital part in reducing stress and spending quality time together. Many of the challenges you face as a caregiving spouse stem from difficulty to communicate with your partner. When you work on enhancing your communication strategies, your whole relationship experiences the benefits.
Communication Tips for Caring Partners
According to the Alzheimer’s Foundation of America, the following tips and techniques can assist you as you learn new ways to communicate effectively with your partner now and as their dementia progresses:
- Pay attention to their feelings – Recognize that any combination of embarrassment, frustration, or confusion is normal for your partner to experience when they lose bits of their communication skills. Respond in a way that reassures and comforts them.
- Starting a conversation – When you speak, say your partner’s name first to help draw their attention to the conversation. Make eye contact to help them focus.
- Speak clearly – Talk in low, calm tones. Enunciate your words clearly. Try not to talk quickly or quietly so your loved one can keep up.
- Speak simply – Use common, easily understood words and phrases, pausing for breaks in between comments. Long explanations can be hard for your loved one to follow along or understand. Be sure to only ask them one question at a time.
- Be physically present – Make sure your loved one can hear and see you when you’re talking. Sit or stand in front of them, and avoid shouting from another room or startling them from behind. When they see you, it will be more natural to speak.
- Use visual cues – Point to objects or demonstrate what you would like your loved one to do. For instance, if you want them to set the table, hand them the plates as you ask.
- Recognize body language – Learn to recognize the nonverbal posture and expressions your loved one makes. Also, pay attention to your facial expression, tone of voice and posture, as your partner may pick up on your stress or frustration.
- Be patient – Give your spouse plenty of time to respond when you ask a question. You may need to reword the question or repeat yourself if they have trouble answering.
- Use positive phrases – Rather than saying, “Don’t do that,” say, “Please do this.” Positive phrases are easier to understand because they are often more direct than negative requests.
- Stay calm – Maintaining an easy-going attitude will help both of you relax, making it easier to talk clearly and understand one another.
If your partner’s dementia advances to the point that he or she can no longer communicate verbally, they can still benefit from their connection to you through conversations. Talk with them about pleasant topics, friends and family or bring up subjects that are meaningful to them. Communicating with your partner not only makes it possible for you to stay connected, but it also relays how much they are loved.
A Trusted Partner in Care
“At Clarity Pointe,” says Low, “we understand how challenging it can be to lose connection with a partner who’s living with dementia. As their caregiver, you need trustworthy support in order to provide good care and cope with the emotional difficulties of your partner’s changes. Our team is happy to be such a resource for many family caregivers. If you would like more guidance or information on how to enhance your communication with your partner, Clarity Pointe Pensacola can help.”
Clarity Pointe™ … Our Difference is Clear
Clarity Pointe™’s Specialized Memory Care “Living” Neighborhoods are truly changing lives for those with Alzheimer’s disease and other dementias – and for those who love them. At Clarity Pointe, our mission is to ensure our residents lead connected and rewarding lives.
Unlike other providers that offer a secure memory care wing in a skilled nursing or assisted living center, Clarity Pointe Pensacola offers three freestanding, purpose-built Memory Care communities that are solely and entirely dedicated to Memory Care Assisted Living. Our communities blend luxurious surroundings with specialized care that is individualized to each resident and delivered by a compassionate, expert team of professionals.
We stay current on the latest trends and advancements in Alzheimer’s care and implement them into our residents’ care plans. Always moving forward, we combine the latest in evidence-based programming with luxurious, residential living and compassionate respectful care.
For each of our residents, we offer a life that is engaging, fulfilling, inspiring and meaningful.