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  • Writer's pictureChristopher Zambakari

Effective Communication Practices for Seniors with Dementia

Updated: Jan 18

Dr. Christopher Zambakari, B.S., MBA, M.I.S., LP.D.

Owner/Operator; Desert Haven Home Care, Apollo Residential Assisted Living, Villa Fiore Assisted Living-Prescott Valley


 

Under a single home care umbrella, Desert Haven Home Care, Apollo Residential Assisted Living, and Villa Fiore Assisted Living-Prescott feature unparalleled care, feature unparalleled care, service and advocacy in the compassionate treatment of senior citizens in need of medical attention. Offered in a familial setting, the facilities are teamed by professionals passionate about their work and fully engaged in the welfare of residents. Each facility proudly provides patient-centric supervisory, assisted and directed care, short-term respite stays and memory care support for Alzheimer’s and dementia patients.


The following exploration of the impact of effective communication in the treatment and care of dementia patients is one in a series of regular informational blogs relative to the field of service, care and the treatment of our elderly.


Editor’s note: It is important to clarify that dementia is not a specific disease but rather a general term referencing loss of memory, language, problem-solving and other thinking abilities. Notes Ability Central, a California-based nonprofit assisting families and caregivers, dementia is a group of symptoms caused by other conditions, and Alzheimer’s is the most common form of dementia, contributing to 60-70 percent of all dementia cases. Other forms of dementia include Lewy body, frontotemporal, Huntington’s, mixed dementia and vascular.

 

When caring for seniors with dementia and other forms of dementia, effective communication is vital to establishing and building meaningful connections and enhancing their quality of life wherein any setting of specialized dementia care, understanding the best communication practices can greatly benefit both families and caregivers. However, the importance of communication and connection are oft-overlooked “amenities” at larger treatment centers and facilities. The more intimate, familiar setting of smaller, more homelike residential care options foster greater quality-of-life outcomes.


As the owner and operator of three such residential care homes in Arizona – Desert Haven Home Care, Apollo Residential Assisted Living, Villa Fiore Assisted Living-Prescott Valley – I am happy to share with you the impact of effective communication in dementia care.


Credit: Monkey Business Images / Shutterstock

Use of clear and simple language

It is said that communication is the bridge between confusion and clarity.; it is the lifeline of any relationship.


Seniors with dementia may struggle to comprehend complex language. Use clear and simple sentences when communicating, speaking slowly and using a calm tone of voice. This approach helps facilitate understanding and reduces frustration for both patient and caregiver.


In the setting of a smaller residential care home, communication is often much more effective, as staff-patient ratios are found to be more conducive to personalized, patient-focused interactions.


Nonverbal communication

Often, communication’s importance lies in not what is said, but in what is isn’t said.


Nonverbal cues play a significant role in communication. Maintaining eye contact, using gentle touch and providing reassuring gestures to help convey a message and establish a sense of connection are all unspoken forms of effective communication. Nonverbal communication can often transcend the limitations of language.


In the more familial setting of homelike residence care, I have seen how the combination of both verbal and nonverbal communication has helped to forge a meaningful and effective relationship between resident and caregiver; communication builds trust.


Positive, supportive environment

Because effective communication starts with listening, effective communication is a form of support and an opportunity to build a connection with the dementia patient. Creating a positive and supportive environment, therefore, begins with effective communication.


Communication is enhanced and given the chance to take root and grow when distractions are minimized – less noise, less congestions, less stimuli. When distractions are removed, residents in dementia care may feel less anxiety, which allows a greater opportunity for meaningful, results-oriented engagement. Encouraging a relaxed atmosphere helps seniors with dementia feel more at ease and enhances their ability to communicate effectively.


Communication is the foundation of relationships, the keystone to mutual trust or ‘valuing.’

When the more personalized care is offered in the smaller, less-hectic setting of a residential backdrop, effective communication is made easier, becomes more familiar and offers a sense of security to the patient.



Active listening

Love and Will author and existential psychologist Rollo Reece May had this to say about communication: “Communication leads to community, that is, to understanding, intimacy and mutual valuing.”


It is no different from one person to another, including a person battling the effects of dementia; communication is the foundation of relationships, the keystone to mutual trust or “valuing.” But, communication is not just talking. Communication is listening. Active listening . This means that effective communication is based on being able to understand and take into account the communication, vernal or nonverbal, of the dementia patient. Communication includes empathy and patience, allowing time for the patient to find their words, to express themselves. By actively listening, caregivers better understand a patient’s needs and preferences, fostering a stronger bond in the relationship.


Use of visual aids and reminders

Sometimes, it is written, a picture may be worth a thousand words.


Visual aids, such as written notes, calendars and pictures, can be powerful tools for communication. These aids serve as reminders and prompts for seniors with dementia, helping them recall important information and facilitating communication with caregivers, loved ones and family members. Visual aids may also serve as guideposts – something as simple as a drawing of a pair of socks or a pair of pants will help direct the dementia patient to the appropriate dresser drawer!


Routines and familiarity

Don’t stop what you’re doing.


Seniors with dementia often find comfort in routines and familiarity. Establishing consistent communication patterns and maintaining familiar daily routines can help reduce confusion and anxiety, enabling more effective communication.


Frequency of contact is also a part of effective communication, and a part of routine and familiarity. In residential, homelike care settings, the staff-to-resident ration is much greater – tilted in favor of the residents being cared for – than in larger care and treatment centers. Such interaction is the rule rather than the exception, and can lead to the patient’s greater sense of security and well-being.


Effective communication is essential when caring for seniors with dementia and cognitive impairment. By using clear and simple language, leveraging nonverbal cues, creating a positive environment, actively listening, utilizing visual aids, and maintaining routines, families and caregivers can strengthen their connections with their loved ones.


The professional team of caregivers and managers at the three assisted living homes I am proud to operate here in Arizona have put a priority on effective communication as they work with, listen to and care for our residents. I encourage you – if you have a loved one in need of residential home care, or if you are simply in the early stages of consideration – to contact me with any questions you may have about our quality of care, the quality of our team or the many ways we may be of assistance.


You can reach me or one of my team at info@deserthavenaz.com


 

About the Author

Dr. Christopher Zambakari is the owner and operator of three Arizona-based assisted living care homes – Desert Haven Home Care in Phoenix, Apollo Residential Assisted Living in Glendale, and Villa Fiore Assisted Living in Prescott Valley, Arizona. He provides direction and oversight to a team of licensed medical and caregiving professionals to ensure the highest levels of customized care, service and advocacy at each of his facilities. Zambakari is founder and CEO of The Zambakari Advisory, an international consultancy in the areas of strategic intelligence, program design and transitional processes. He is a Hartley B. and Ruth B. Barker Endowed Rotary Peace Fellow, and the assistant editor of the Bulletin of The Sudans Studies Association.


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