7 Tips to Connect with Dementia Clients
After completing my certified nursing assistant program, I became a caregiver for two clients suffering from dementia. During this time, I quickly realized that making a connection is one of the most important things I can do as a care partner. In our fast paced, technology driven society, making a connection with people seems harder than ever. If you’ve ever had a hard time connecting with someone suffering from dementia, below are seven tips that are worth trying.
When caring for patients in any stage of dementia it is important to find that person’s sense of humor. Making jokes and laughing with a client is one of my favorite parts of being a care partner. Being able to communicate a light hearted joke may seem insignificant, but this allows for a moment of bonding as well as creating a break from the monotony of a normal day. Simple jokes allow for time where a person with dementia can become more comfortable with you, and see you as someone interested in taking the extra time to do this is vital to portray that you care about them and are there for them.
De-escalate and Redirect
I have been in many difficult situations where two residents have gotten into arguments that have had potential to be violent. One thing I try to do is physically stand in between the two residents in the dispute, remain calm while making eye contact with my client and listen to what it is that is aggravating him, and offer a peaceful alternative to the dispute, all the while, allowing the other resident to distance his or herself from the situation. After the client has calmed down a little, I often offer them an alternative activity to redirect them from an aggravating situation and environment. If the clients’ aggravation is directed at you I try to ask what is upsetting them and try to verbally calm them down. However, if the client is upset with you (the caregiver), I try to physically lower myself (if the client is in a wheelchair) to go from a less dominant position and be eye level allowing the resident and ask what is wrong this allows the client to voice their discretions along with calming them down to where the two of you can come to a compromise. If that fails, I allow them a few moments of privacy and attempt a different approach to the situation.
Questioning and taking a genuine interest in others allows me to have great success connecting with my clients. Having a loved one answer a question allows you to somewhat steer a conversation while allowing them to freely express themselves and reminisce on fond memories. Simply asking “what did you do for a living” can be helpful in bonding with a patient showing your willingness and interest in their life showing that you are there for more than just a job but care and are actively trying to learn about them and their interests. This question allows the opportunity for patients to open themselves up and explain something they once took great pride in as well as learning more about the person which in turn helps builds relationships based on commonalities in your personality and shared experiences.
Do it with a Smile! Body language can be a big barrier when trying to communicate with anyone, but it is crucial to have positive body language when working with patients suffering from dementia. Smiling is a very simple portrayal of your mood and can change how the person perceives you. A simple smile shows an eagerness and enjoyment in spending time with the client. Many people with dementia are afraid to ask for help and feel as though they are being a burden, a quick smile can alleviate a lot of these feelings by showing active interest and willingness to help! Another important factor is their body language. Being able to read a person’s body language can be really helpful when trying to fill in the blanks of what a person with dementia is trying to convey when they are having trouble finding the words.
Similar to body language, your tone and careful vocabulary can drastically impact a patient’s cooperation In my experience simple politeness goes a long way. “Yes Ma’am,” “please” and “thank you” show your patient that you are listening to their concerns and are considering their thoughts and feelings giving them a say in their day to day life. Most importantly just be nice make the resident feel like you want to be there and enjoy their company. Avoid phases such as “are you trying to make my job harder” or other connotations that lose the friend relationship. I would rather be the friend who helps them out rather than a paid worker doing a job. Residents commonly respond negatively to this and can also feel as though they are being a burden if you demonstrate signs of annoyance or disinterest. The way you approach a resident and the tone you use and drastically affect a client’s willingness to cooperate.
One easy way to foster a stronger relationship with someone suffering from dementia is offering them a sense of validation. This is really simple and makes both parties feel better, a simple and genuine “good job” after completing a task can go a long way in encouraging someone and having an increased cooperation. In general, being validated is important, no one wants to be told they are wrong are doing something incorrectly. An easy way to avoid this is to ask leading questions instead of making demands such as “would you like to get up for dinner.” This is an easy way to change your tone and once you are done with the task let them know they did a good job or gently correct as you are going along the best way to do this to make clear and direct instructions. I always try and do one thing at time to keep confusion to a minimum, instead of telling the patient you are going to get up. shower, brush their teeth and hair, and bring them to breakfast, take it in steps don’t overwhelm them with too many tasks and instructions at one time, offering sincere compliments and validation of good work and appreciation in between tasks.
Encouragement is vital with patients suffering from dementia, giving them a gentle push can be all they need to try something new or difficult. Whether it be rehabilitation through a tough surgery or just staying positive during hard days, encouragement can go a long way. While doing exercise with dementia patients I often try and break the exercises up into little ones with breaks along the way to make the task seem less daunting and more easily achievable. Another big part of being a care partner is getting residents to join in the planned activities for the day a simple “it’s a lot of fun if you give it a try” can make a resident willing to get out of their comfort zone and try something new while not sounding like a demand. These gentle pushes can have a large impact in a resident’s mood, recovery process and overall health and can be very rewarding on both sides.
Landon Sands started with Monarch Senior Solutions in 2018 after receiving his C.N.A. certificate. He has been awarded the high honor of Eagle Scout and is currently pursuing his education in nursing.