Communication support for carers this Alzheimer’s Month

Communication support for carers this Alzheimer’s Month: To mark this year’s Alzheimer’s Month (September), new research by Lottie has found over the last 12 months, more carers than ever before are seeking dementia communication support and advice online:

  • 100% increase in online searches for ‘communication care plan for dementia’
  • 40% increase in online searches for ‘caring for someone with alzheimers’
  • 22% increase in online searches for ‘communication difficulties in dementia’
  • 22% increase in online searches for ‘how to talk to someone with dementia’

Good communication is a crucial part of living well after a dementia diagnosis and it can make it easier for both you and your loved one living with dementia to understand how to communicate with each other. However, sometimes it can be difficult to know how to change your communication style to be better able to to talk to someone living with dementia.

That’s why the team at Lottie have shared their advice – alongside the experts at Loveday&Co – on how best to communicate with your loved one who has dementia.

“If you’re finding it difficult to communicate, you’re not alone – it’s very common for the way you communicate with a loved one living with dementia to change as their condition progresses”, shares Will Donnelly Co-Founder and Care Expert at Lottie.

“It’s no surprise we’ve seen a surge in carers turning to Google for support with communicating with a loved one living with dementia – almost 1 million people in the UK are living with dementia and this is only expected to increase over the next few years.

Dementia affects someone’s ability to process information, meaning conversations can become delayed, they may become confused easily, are unable to follow a conversation, or communicate their needs. If you’re struggling to communicate with your loved one, it can be helpful to seek support to help ease any difficulties your loved one may experience with their speech and communication.”

To raise awareness of communication difficulties many of those living with dementia experience, Loveday&Co (London’s only senior living members club and dementia care specialists) share how they support their members living with dementia through activities that encourage communication.

Robert Speker, Head of Member Lifestyle and Activities at Loveday&Co, shares “our activities are always adapting to the members’ individual needs and circumstances. Music plays an important role for people living with dementia.

The benefits include providing emotional, and behavioural support, helping with speech and language, enhancing cognitive memory functioning and improving the general well-being of the individual. Music can enhance the quality of life and has the added bonus of having a positive impact on carers and other staff as well as the members.

Research has also suggested that the areas of the brain where musical memories are stored are not generally affected by dementia. The reaction I see during music is the proof I need, including seeing Members smiling, singing, dancing and truly engaged. Often members say “thank you so much for the beautiful music” or “I loved hearing my favourite song”.

Here’s how to positively communicate with a loved one living with dementia – according to Lottie’s Will Donnelly:

Every person’s experience with dementia is unique and there is no one way to communicate with someone living with dementia. However, there are some small steps you can take to help ease any difficulties your loved one may experience with their speech and communication.

1. Make sure your loved one is comfortable

Before starting a conversation with your loved one – check to see if they are comfortable in their environment. Busy and noisy locations can not only be overwhelming it can also make it difficult for someone with dementia to concentrate.

A quiet and calm room with minimal distractions is an ideal place to chat to your loved one with dementia and it can help to chat to them at the times of the day where they are generally more alert or settled.

Remember to check in, to make sure their personal needs are met before starting a conversation – for example make sure they’re not tired, hungry or in pain.

Family members of those part of the Loveday community are delighted with the support their loved ones receive on a daily basis. “We felt extremely fortunate to find Loveday Chelsea Court Place. Its professional connections with cutting-edge Alzheimer’s and dementia care are impressive and interweave seamlessly with the caring attitudes of all members of staff. Every attempt is made to help maintain the individual identity and integrity of its residents.”

2. Communicate clearly and calmly

Dementia affects someone’s ability to process information – try using short and simple sentences, this can make it easier for your loved one to process and understand what you are saying. Be patient and allow your loved one some time to respond to any questions.

Try to slow down the rate you speak at and talk loud and clearly. Whilst it may seem strange or frustrating if you have to adapt your communication style, making it as easy as possible for your loved one to understand you will help you both to be better able to communicate with each other.

Claudine Rudall, Lifestyle & Activities Manager for Loveday Abbey Road, shares “the care team and I are constantly communicating with our members to ensure we know as much about their loves and likes, enabling us to create activities and excursions specifically for them.”

3. Pace the conversation

Try to have an open and conversational chat with your loved one and avoid asking too many questions at one time – this may feel quite tiring or irritating.

Alexandra, Carer at Loveday Chelsea Court Place says she allows members to lead conversations using activities to help stimulate their responses.

“During 1-1 activities R.M enjoyed a YouTube movie about Montenegro, she remembered her home, native tongue, and childhood. She remembered the games she played with her neighbours.”

Let your loved one finish their own sentences – don’t be too quick to try and assume you know what they are thinking – this can lead to misunderstandings. Allow them time to process the information and communicate a response.

4. Be aware of your body language

Body language can help you to communicate a message – especially if your loved one finds it difficult to process information. For example, movement and prompts such as pointing to photos or signs can help to convey a message.

Stand or sit near your loved one when talking to them and remain at eye level – this can help you to keep eye contact and body language open and relaxed.

Cynthia, Lifestyle & Activities Manager at Loveday Chelsea Court Place, shares how she uses body language to communicate with their members.

“Member H although a very loving, caring and generous lady has some not so good days. While I was doing art with the other members, she became upset. I invited her over to sit with me and gave her a paintbrush and a clean canvas. She began painting using different strokes and different colours. While painting, she said I’m so sorry. I didn’t mean what I said but I am ok now that I am relaxing while I paint.”

5. Remember to listen

A key part of communication is listening. Offer encouragement both verbally and non-verbally, for example by making eye contact and nodding. Take the conversation at a slower pace, if you haven’t fully understood what the person has said, ask them to repeat it. If you are still unclear, rephrase their answer to check your understanding of what they meant.This is called ‘active listening’ can help improve communication.

If your loved one with dementia has difficulty finding the right word or finishing a sentence, ask them to explain it in a different way. If they cannot find the word for a particular object, ask them to describe it instead.

Claudine Rudall, Lifestyle & Activities Manager for Loveday Abbey Road, explains how she listens and remembers each conversation she has with Loveday&Co members, and this has helped her to build strong connections.

“Member ‘I’ always gives me a cheery wave on arrival. I am a qualified nail technician, and she loves to have her nails painted whilst listening to her favourite jazz music. Member ‘R’ loves all manner of music and when she hears our live music events or music in our exercise classes, she is always the first on her feet ready to dance.

At times when we are living with Dementia, making new memories is not an option but we can help to make exceptional happy moments.”

6. Encourage them to communicate

Try to involve your loved one to join conversations with others – this can help them to feel more confident in their ability to communicate. Being included can also help them to feel valued and supported and reduce any feelings of loneliness or isolation.

Residence Artist at Loveday&Co, Grace Halliday, celebrates the “the pleasure of designing and delivering a series of arts projects and workshops to encourage communication and community” across Loveday Chelsea Court Place and Kensington.

Grace explains art activities at Loveday&Co are designed to “invite immersive and sensory experiences, nurture both individual imagination and a sense of creative community and to structure environments that are equally enabling and exciting for all members to create special moments.”

Milarnie, Carer for Loveday Chelsea Court Place, says music helps many of their members with dementia to communicate, “the activities department organised a cruise ship singer to perform for the members. We noticed that one of our members who normally is quiet, doesn’t speak and has her eyes closed, awoke to the sound of the music and the singer’s voice. She said she enjoyed the music very much and said the singer should come back to sing for them again.”

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