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The different types of dementia can affect the brain in very different ways, however a common theme between them all is how they can cause the ability to communicate to suffer. Over the course of the time an individual will live with dementia, communication between them and those around them may become harder as the disease progresses, or alternatively it may be one of the earlier manifestations of their disease.

The first hurdle surrounding communication is the difficulty a person living with dementia may face in expressing themselves to others. This can occur when they become unable to fluently engage others in clear conversation, making it difficult for others to follow what they are saying as the person with dementia is unable to find the right words or fit a sentence together to say what they want to say. It can also be that the individual struggles with their ability to collect their thoughts, get their mind to understand an idea, or come up with sentences that make sense to others; this again can result in either communication that is challenging for another individual to comprehend and respond to, or a lack of any real communication from them at all.

Secondly, communication difficulties arise when the person living with dementia cannot understand what you say to them and therefore won’t be able to respond to you. This may either be because they have struggled to understand or remember what the actual individual words you have said are, or because they are unable to process and comprehend the whole idea or meaning of what you have said to them. This can manifest itself as difficulty in keeping up a flowing conversation with someone living with dementia, or them not being able to follow your instructions. From my experience as a volunteer with the Alzheimer’s society, this can be most challenging to those living with and caring for the person with dementia. It can become arduous for them to interact with someone who struggles to understand and respond, be it asking them to put the kettle on or just discussing what to watch on TV or what to have for dinner. Day-to-day living can become difficult and result in the carer having to take on all tasks within a home and potentially feeling lonely and isolated.

There are some techniques we can use to communicate with an individual living with dementia which can make it easier for them to understand us. One of the simplest ways is to de-clutter what we say. This involves making our sentences as simple as possible by only sticking to one idea or concept, using simple vocabulary, using shorter sentences and making sure what you say is unambiguous. Then, a great way to aid communication is to allow lots of time for the person you’re speaking with to respond; if they haven’t quite understood what you’ve said, after a short wait, it can be useful to rephrase it. From experience though, I have found that if there is still difficulty getting the right level of understanding after rephrasing, it is best to move on from that subject for the time being and readdress it later if needs be.

Lastly, I believe it is important to mention the pertinent need for patience. When an individual with dementia is struggling to express themselves to you or is struggling to understand and respond to what you have said, it will hinder communication if you try to rush, speak for, or fire further questions or words at them. I have experienced this all too frequently in public settings such as shops or cafés, where the staff serving struggle to give the individual with dementia enough time to think and express themselves and usually interrupt or hurry and pressurise them. This can result in further confusion and a complete loss of their trail of thought. I believe there is a widespread need amongst the public for a greater level of awareness of dementia and the requirement for patience and empathy when interacting with an individual who is living with it.

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