For individuals living with dementia, the world can be a confusing and terrifying place. We must not, however, assume every individual living with dementia lacks capacity. Indeed, it’s perfectly possible for an individual to have capacity to take some decisions but not others, particular if the dementia is mild.
As professionals, we can often find ourselves advising clients who may struggle to understand technical issues due to an impairment or lack of capacity. It’s important that we do everything we can to support and enable individuals to take decisions for themselves.
Even the slightest gesture or phrase may confuse or lead a client in such circumstances. Some top tips for ensuring you are doing the best for clients who may be living with dementia include:
- Thinking about where they will sit in your meeting room. If there is a window behind you the client may easily lose focus and be distracted by things happening outside of the room.
- Use short sentences. Dementia can result in loss of ability to follow long thought processes or chains of events.
- Think about your body language. Smiling too much, frowning, nodding or shaking your head may encourage a client to be led into agreeing or disagreeing with something you are asking.
- Be careful about using “Why?” questions. Why requires conceptual thought which can be impaired by the effects of dementia. Think about asking “What?” questions to justify reasoning.
- Avoid figures of speech. Dementia affects cognitive ability and can result in the individual taking everything literally.
- Do not hurry the individual. While it’s tempting to help someone find a word or complete a sentence, this takes away their autonomy and can result in misunderstanding. What might seem like a rambling story response may well be a coping mechanism to provide an answer to your question.
- Above all, treat the individual as a person. Don’t talk over them or avoid speaking to them directly.