Chatting Virtually With Someone With Dementia

In 2022, there are around 55 million people around the world who are living with dementia.

What’s more, it’s estimated that approximately 65% of those with a current diagnosis are living in the community (Dementia Australia).

Therefore, it’s likely that many of us have already met – or will soon meet – another person who is struggling to come to terms with their diagnosis. Whether it be ourselves, a loved one, a neighbor, friend or family member, one thing is for certain: dementia has the ability to impact us all.

Of course, social connection is one of the most widely acknowledged antidotes to health challenges, including dementia. This fact is reflected in our article Staying Connected with the Elderly During Isolation. Of course, this brings us to the question of how to communicate effectively with someone who has a dementia diagnosis.

How to talk to a parent with dementia

  • Be aware of, simplify, and clarify your language choices
  • Try the tools and techniques of social connection (including audiobooks, storytelling and calls from family) 
  • Recognize the differences between “lack of understanding” and hearing impairment
  • Use communication aids and assistive technologies such as the Konnekt Videophone for dementia

Let’s explore each of these suggestions now.

Phone for Dementia

How to talk to someone with dementia on the phone

Dementia is widely understood to be a progressive illness that, in time, will affect a person’s ability to both recall and understand names, places, dates and other everyday information.

What’s more, dementia will gradually affect the nature of a person’s communication – what they say, how they say it, and their ability to comprehend another’s response.

If you happen to be caring for someone who has been diagnosed with dementia, you might start to notice that their speech slows, and their responses begin to delay.

The UK’s National Health Service (NHS) recommends that carers undertake a number of measures in order to structure, simplify and refine their use of language in order for it to be more easily understood. Many of these strategies involve the use of non-verbal communication, an immensely effective communication tool for dementia.

The NHS suggestions apply equally to your visits and your video conversations:

Talking to a parent with dementia on a video call

  • Demonstrate your attention by sitting up straight, facing the person
  • Keep your tone of voice friendly and positive
  • Use eye contact
  • Repeat what you heard back to the person, then ask if they feel it’s accurate
  • Use simple sentences
  • If you ask a question, try not to make it double-barrelled (asking two questions in succession)
  • Try not to interrupt the person, even if you feel you might know what they’re trying to say

The strong message is that being patient and remaining calm are key to effective communication with someone managing cognitive impairment such as Alzheimer’s dementia.

This can be particularly important when deciding how to talk to a parent or family member with dementia when strong emotions and social dynamics may be at play.

Overall, understanding that a person’s ability to process information is severely impacted can help you make an informed decision regarding good communication.

Happy adult male embracing his happy senior father

How to engage someone with dementia in social activities

Like good communication, various other tools of social connection can assist with helping someone facing a dementia diagnosis to feel seen, heard, and involved.

Social-connection tools for dementia

Fear not: there are many ways to help engage someone challenged by dementia.

Research conducted by the World Health Organization (WHO) demonstrates that nearly 10 million new cases of dementia are registered every year. What’s more, it’s reported that some of the single-most important factors in determining the severity of a dementia case relate to the mitigation of risk factors include physical exercise, psychological stimulation, and – you guessed it – social connection.

A number of the world’s most active dementia support organizations offer a range of resources to help your loved ones stay connected. The American Alzheimer’s Association, for example, provides an excellent collection of free tools for engaging loved ones with a dementia diagnosis. These include a virtual book library, online e-learning modules, and community resource finder.

The links between dementia and hearing

If you care for someone with dementia, then you might find yourself repeating or rewording a phrase, looking for alternative words, or even abandoning the conversation altogether.

Recent research published by John Hopkins University found that hearing loss (sensorineural or otherwise) is estimated to account for up to 8% of dementia cases. This means that impaired hearing may be directly responsible for up to 800,000 of the nearly 10 million new cases of dementia diagnoses globally each year.

Senior man pressing his fingers to one ear checking his hearing

While this demonstrates a clear link between hearing loss and dementia, it’s also necessary for carers to understand that not all dementia patients are suffering hearing loss – and that not all those suffering hearing loss are also managing dementia.

A hearing test by a specialist audiologist can help you determine the best way forward.

To locate an audiologist that specializes in treating patients with dementia, your local dementia support organization can help provide you with guidance.

Mother forgets to hang up the phone

One of the most common communication-related issues with dementia is loved ones’ management of the most essential communication device: the phone.

Leaving the phone off the hook is a common problem for people managing a dementia or Alzheimer’s diagnosis. While some people might see this as a simple nuisance, other family members will know it to be a serious safety issue.

What to do when the phone is left off-hook

Have you discovered your father or mother leaving the phone off the hook? Chances are it could happen again – and perhaps at a critical time.

At Konnekt, we’re here to help you manage the inevitable with a solution that’s safe and effortless, and that requires no prior experience to use.

Communication aids for dementia

Of course, there may also come a time when staying in direct contact with the dementia survivor in your life may become a challenge. This can be of particular importance if family members continue experiencing communication challenges – like forgetting to hang up the phone.

One way of mitigating the effects of social isolation for people suffering dementia is to utilize a growing range of communication aids and technologies.

Ideas for chatting virtually with someone who has dementia:

  • Use video chat on a smartphone
  • Chat in a well-lit area to aid the reading of facial expressions
  • Minimize background noise
  • Ensure a fast internet connection to avoid interruptions caused by glitching

However, as with the use of any technology, problems may arise with regards to its usability.

Family trying to teach elderly mother to use a Smartphone

Assistive technologies for dementia

Assistive technology like the Konnekt phone for dementia is a wonderful solution. Dementia phones not only help those managing dementia connect socially with those around them, but can also help improve cognitive function in as little as 6 weeks.

Konnekt Videophone with 7 call buttons configured with the contact faces on the call buttons

Konnekt Videophone for dementia

  • Nothing to remember – no menus, no logins, no icons to decipher
  • No skills required – no keyboard, mouse or pop-ups
  • Calling to mobiles, tablets, computers, landlines, GPs, family members, and more – everything is possible
  • “Always-on” option – no need to press power button
  • One touch to call, with a special “zero touch” function when answering a carer’s call
  • Allowing the user to see who’s calling
  • The possibility to block unknown numbers

…and much more.

To find out more about our products and to better understand how you can help the people in your life manage their dementia diagnosis, consider visiting our online library of educational materials.

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