How To Communicate Effectively With Older Adults With Dementia Or Other Cognitive Impairments

How To Communicate Effectively With Older Adults With Dementia Or Other Cognitive Impairments

Effectively communicating with an individual who has dementia or another cognitive impairment can be difficult. They may have difficulty understanding you as you speak to them, and they may produce language that is difficult for others to understand. This can cause any number of misunderstandings, as well as significant confusion and frustration for both people.

Communicating with an older adult with a cognitive impairment typically involves significant amounts of patience, strong listening skills, and new techniques and strategies. These conditions are usually progressive, meaning the symptoms become worse over time. Speech and language pathology can be incredibly beneficial for an older adult who is struggling to communicate due to cognitive impairment and can also slow the progression of the condition. Getting yourself or a loved one started with Great Speech is as simple as scheduling your free introductory call today! 

What to Expect When Communicating with an Older Adult with a Cognitive Impairment

An individual with dementia or another cognitive impairment may struggle to recall certain words and communicate clearly and effectively. You may notice some of the following symptoms when you communicate with them:

  • Difficulty finding the appropriate word
  • Frequent substitutions of words
  • Providing a description of an object instead of its name
  • Frequent repetition of certain words, questions or stories
  • Combining unrelated words, ideas or phrases
  • Difficulty retaining focus and maintaining their train of thought
  • Speaking less frequently
  • If they are multilingual, reverting to their first language 

How Do You Communicate with a Cognitively Impaired Person?

In order to improve comprehension in both directions, use the following methods and techniques when communicating with an individual with cognitive impairment:

Patience: Take your time, and listen carefully to the individual. Allowing ample time for them to respond (without interrupting) is also highly important. 

Interpretation: Learn to interpret the individual as they attempt to communicate by doing your best to understand what they are trying to express. If the individual is clearly struggling to communicate an idea, you can offer them your best guess.

Maintain Connection: Ensure to always maintain eye contact when you are communicating, and always call them by name. You can also hold hands while conversing to further maintain the connection. 

Nonverbal Cues: Be aware of such things as the tone and volume of your voice, as well as your body language and facial expressions.

Offer Comfort & Compassion: If the individual is struggling to express themselves, let them know that it is okay that they are having difficulty and gently encourage them to keep trying. 

Be Respectful: Remember to always speak to the individual as an adult, avoid ‘baby talk’ or condescending phrases and never speak about them as if they aren’t present. 

Limit Distractions: When working on communication, limit or eliminate any external distractions, such as a radio or television, or anything that might make listening, hearing, or concentrating more difficult. 

Keep it Simple: Use simple vocabulary and short sentences when communicating with the individual. In more advanced stages of the condition, ask questions that require one word or yes or no answer. Break requests or instructions down into small, single steps. 

Provide Options: When making a request for something that the individual may resist, such as bathing, give them two options. For example, “Would you like to take your bath before or after dinner?” 

Don’t Offer Corrections: Avoid the urge to criticize, correct, or argue with the individual. Do not correct their mistakes, and avoid arguing with them if they say something you don’t agree with. 

Keep it Short: Keep conversations and working sessions short. Take breaks often if you or the individual is becoming frustrated. This can be a long process, and patience and encouragement are essential. 

While the above techniques are incredibly important when supporting an older adult with cognitive impairment, speech therapy should also be incorporated. Getting started with Great Speech is as simple as scheduling your free introductory call today! 

Speech Therapy Treatment for Dementia

Dementia and other cognitive impairments that come with older age can affect a wide variety of functions including attention, speech and language production, memory, and visual and spatial perception. When these symptoms are combined, the individual may develop impaired judgment, feel disoriented, and experience the development of depression. 

Speech therapy is an essential resource when it comes to helping older adults with cognitive impairment to feel supported and maintain a sense of normalcy and independence as the condition progresses. Time with a speech and language pathologist can also help to stimulate cognitive abilities through engagement in activities as exercises related to various areas of cognition. 

Speech therapy for cognitive impairment helps the individual to learn to modify their environment, compensate for their deficits and adapt to the changes that are caused by their condition. There is a wide variety of exercises and techniques that will help the individual to improve upon memory and recall, speech and language production, and the comprehension of others. 

Speech therapists can also help to communicate important information to the individual that other caregivers and family members may be struggling to get across. Communicating with a loved one through a speech and language pathologist often means that the individual is able to process the information as accurately as possible. 

Witnessing a loved one struggle with dementia or another cognitive impairment can be heartbreaking. As these conditions progress into the later stages, cognitive and communication abilities can be lost completely. This is why finding the right treatment options is imperative. Speech therapy can help to retain certain abilities, as well as slow the loss of these skills as the condition progresses. 

Great Speech offers virtual speech therapy services to individuals of all ages and abilities. If you are seeking treatment for yourself or a loved one, receiving these services from the comfort of your own home can make benefitting from speech therapy easier and more convenient than ever.