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How to Talk to a Parent With Dementia

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a woman talks to her mother who has dementia

Aging is inevitable, yet it’s heartbreaking for children to see parents suffering from dementia. Memory loss and cognitive decline can make it challenging for people with dementia and their children. 

Memory support provides custom care for loved ones with dementia. Living in a community with personalized services and amenities for people with dementia can lead to a rich and rewarding life. 

If you have a parent with dementia, you likely have many questions about how to communicate and interact effectively. As dementia progresses, it can become increasingly difficult for both parties to converse. 

We discuss dementia, the stages of dementia, and some helpful tips on how you can talk more effectively to foster a better relationship with a parent who has dementia.

What is Dementia?

Dementia is a general name for several disorders that impact memory and thinking. Alzheimer’s disease, the most common form of dementia, affects people from varying age groups and causes changes in not only memory but also behavior and personality. 

Signs & Symptoms of Dementia

While some changes in memory or personality are not noticeable in the early stages, a decline in mental capability can be noted by family members before symptoms appear.

Symptoms of dementia can vary greatly. Examples include:

  • Short-term memory or memory loss that interferes with daily living
  • Changes in mood or behavior
  • Difficulty completing familiar tasks or problem-solving
  • Difficulty remembering appointments or paying bills
  • Confusion and wandering
  • Misplacing objects
  • Problems with thinking and communicating
  • Poor judgment
  • Withdrawal

Stages of Dementia

Since dementia is a progressive disease, it starts slowly and gradually becomes worse. There are three major stages of dementia: 

  1. Mild or early-stage dementia
  2. The moderate or middle-stage dementia
  3. Severe or late-stage dementia

Mild or Early Stage

Symptoms are noticeable, but mental impairment is still minimal. People in the early stage of dementia can function independently and have a good working memory of the past. However, have a problem remembering recent events or people and misplacing objects.  

Moderate or Middle Stage

During this stage, symptoms become more pronounced. Have difficulty recalling information, experience confusion, lose independence, and require more help with daily activities. 

Severe or Late Stage

People with severe decline require around-the-clock care with complete dependence on others. They have great difficulty communicating and expressing themselves. 

a close up image of two sets of hands, one young and one old. The younger person is holding the hands of the older to represent support for their dementia

Tips on how to talk to a parent with dementia

With a loss of thinking ability, memory, attention, and logical reasoning, it becomes more important how you communicate with a parent who has dementia. 

  • Listen more: During the early stages, listen more attentively as they talk without interruption and let them communicate their thoughts while still able. 
  • Be patient and reassure them: When they forget recent events or have trouble finding the right word, avoid immediately correcting them and instead acknowledge them. Also, reassure them by encouraging them to tap into their long-term memory and tell stories of the past. 
  • Keep your tone positive: Dementia patients can have good and bad days. Their lack of ability to communicate effectively can leave them frustrated. Offer encouragement by maintaining a positive and calm tone. 
  • Speak slowly and use short sentences: During the middle stage, when they have difficulty remembering and experience confusion, you can speak slowly and use short sentences. Yes and no questions work better than open-ended ones. 
  • Get comfortable with silence: During the late stage, they can have difficulty communicating. There may be long periods of silence waiting for a response. It’s okay to let the silence prevail. 
  • Non-verbal communication: Communication can be non-verbal. Use gestures, pointing, or pictures to encourage unspoken communication. Even touching hands, putting an arm around the shoulders, and hugging conveys feelings and thoughts without using words. 
  • Limit distractions: Background noise and other distractions can induce anxiety. Quiet and calm spaces with soothing music can improve mood, behavior, and communication. 

Personalized Memory Support for All Individuals

Communication is often one of the most difficult challenges for family members to overcome with a parent who has dementia. They may not be able to speak in a way that is understood, but there are ways you can talk to someone with dementia while maintaining their dignity. 
Your approach makes all the difference. Fox Trail Senior Living provides a compassionate community and memory support for those with dementia. Schedule a visit to learn more about how your parent can thrive in our memory support program.

Ryan Donahue

Written by Ryan Donahue, Regional Vice President

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