3 minute read

Communication tools for people living with dementia

Being able to communicate is something that’s often taken for granted until people living with dementia start to find the ability disappearing. This can have a number of consequences, from not being able to express basic needs or compromising on living an enriching life despite the diagnosis.

As a carer or loved one of a person living with dementia, this part of the disease can be particularly challenging. Feelings of frustration and an inability to show affection can have a detrimental effect on relationships, but there are ways to facilitate communication and break down the barriers.

There are high tech and low tech communication tools, as well as various organisations that can help find the right solution for each individual. Sometimes it can take time to work out the best options and in other cases it can be a combination of tools that make caring for a person living with dementia easier.

Low tech communication tools for people living with dementia

Sometimes simple solutions can be the most effective, especially for people living with dementia, which can mean low tech communication tools are a good place to start. These include things like communication cards and picture boards, which allow an individual to point at the desire they’re wishing to communicate.

These aids can have a huge impact on cutting down on common frustrations that can lead to uncharacteristic outbursts in a person living with dementia. Visual aids such as these are readily available and are likely to show common needs, such as feeling hungry, wanting to go to the toilet or a desire to go to bed.

Be prepared to improvise your own low tech communication tools and print off pictures of things that relate directly to the person living with dementia. This will help them to retain a sense of themselves and reflect lifelong interests or sensibilities.

High tech communication tools for people living with dementia

Recent advances mean there are now lots of assistive technology solutions for the elderly. These include phones with larger buttons and speed dial contacts with accompanying photos; digital assistants; camera doorbells, screen readers; and clocks and calendars that speak the time and date out loud.

Smartphone apps, such as Talking Mats, can be a useful way to help people living with dementia to express their needs. Working as a digital communication board, individuals can use the computer-generated images and place them against a scale to more accurately demonstrate how they are feeling.

While many non-verbal communication tools rely on touch for people living with dementia to get their message across, there are devices controlled in other ways available too. Eye gaze and muscle-controlled switches can be particularly useful in the more advanced stages of dementia.

A common approach to finding the right assistive technology for memory loss[1]  is to take each issue at a time. Try not to solve all communication problems for a person living with dementia all at once and only introduce solutions on their own. Otherwise you risk overwhelming them and causing further confusion and frustration.

Over time, you’ll likely build up a suite of tools that work alongside each other to help in a variety of circumstances. This will then likely need to be tweaked as the dementia progresses and the needs and abilities of your loved ones evolve.

Useful organisations to help with communication

There are a number of organisations that specialise in supporting the communication needs of people living with dementia. Depending on the stage at which the dementia is at, it could be that speech therapy could help or that interpreters might help to find a solution.

Seeking expert advice is a useful step towards improving communication and can be reassuring for carers to know they’re taking the right approach. Often, it’s the experience of practitioners that is the most valuable, as they know what has worked for other individuals in similar situations.

Dementia care can be daunting, but there’s a lot of advice and support available. This should help lead you to solutions that work for both you as a carer and the person who is living with dementia.

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