Dementia Centred

James McKillop's picture

By James McKillop

September 20th, 2016

Keeping the conversation on the right track

Many of you have met or heard about James McKillop, James has been living with dementia for 15 years, and was a founding member of the Scottish Dementia Working Group in 2002.

Over a series of blogs James will share some insights around communicating with and supporting people with dementia.

Part 5: Keeping the conversation on the right track

It can be frustrating dealing with someone with dementia, and do not feel you are somehow to blame.   Never let it show as they will pick it up and the rapport can be lost.  Grit your teeth, take a deep breath and carry on. Remember someone with a communication problem, can also get frustrated if their views are not understood or if their speech comes out muddled.

  • Don’t pretend to understand, as you may go down the wrong track with serious repercussions.  Be honest and ask them to explain/repeat again.
  • Read their body language and non-verbal messages.  If they are giving out distress signals or seem not to understand you, it may be something is troubling them such as needing the toilet, a cigarette, or they simply cannot hear you clearly.  They can be become distracted, anxious or discombobulated.  Is their facial expression conveying something? Remain alert at all times and watch their behaviour.
  • Communication can take place through touch.  You may touch/hold a person’s hand or arm and convey the warmth of your personality and show understanding, sympathy and empathy.  Most will appreciate it. I do. It may have been some time, since anyone showed some feeling. Some will absolutely love it, but the odd person may dislike it and recoil from you.  So be aware a potential problem can arise, which may ruin the relationship.
  • Don’t give them a pat on the head, as has happened to me!
  • But do not talk over their head or around them, if someone is present. Always look at, talk and respond to them directly.  Don’t invade their space but remain in eye contact.
  • At appropriate times summarize to ensure they have understood you and not merely said yes to please you or are frightened to say no.

In part six of his posts on communication James will share tips on conversations in hospitals

In his previous posts on communication James has covered:

Part 1: Preparation for effective communication

Part 2: Place, the impact of environment on communication

Part 3: Setting the scene well can enhance communication

Part 4: The conversation: collecting information

James McKillop's writing on dementia and communication will be published as a resource booklet by Life Changes Trust later in 2016.

Best Practice in dementia care
The programme is based on person-centred care and the building of meaningful relationships and includes guidance on communication and behavior.

10 Helpful Hints Series
These books are a short series of guides in plain language for the use of health and social care workers, people with dementia and families affected by dementia. They are based on research but with the needs and time constraints of the busy carer or professional in mind.


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