How Dementia Affects Communication

Communication is the foundation of all relationships, and an integral part of everyday life. Though communication we can express our needs, our ideas, and how we feel. Imagine, just for a minute, what would happen if you were not able to communicate. You would probably feel suffocated and frustrated, sad and lonely. Unfortunately, this is a reality for many Australians living with dementia. Before we learn how dementia affects communication, let’s understand a little more about dementia.

After Care Australasia - Dimentia affects communication

What is dementia?

Dementia is not one specific disease. It describes a collection of symptoms that are caused by disorders affecting the brain. Depending on what parts of the brain have been affected, cognitive functions such as memory, language skills, thinking, problem-solving, and the ability to process information may be impaired. One of the most common causes of dementia is Alzheimer’s disease.

How dementia affects communication

Some types of dementia reduce blood flow to the brain and brain cells perish. Other types cause proteins to build up and damage nerve cells. As the disease progresses, the more damage it causes to the brain. These brain changes make it more difficult to speak or communicate in the following ways:

1. Finding the right words

The temporal lobes of the brain help us process what we see and hear around us. It is also the storeroom for memories, the names of objects, and the names of people we meet. If this part of the brain is damaged, it causes memory loss. It would be hard for a person to find the right words to use or recall their factual knowledge.

2. Changing topics

People with dementia often find it difficult to concentrate or to stay focussed on a specific task. Therefore, during conversation they may jump from topic to topic without completing a full sentence. This usually occurs when the frontal lobes are damaged.

3. Slurred speech

To speak clearly, the lips, mouth, tongue, and vocal cords all need to coordinate and work together. However, if dementia has caused damage to the frontal lobes of the brain, control over these muscles will be hindered, resulting in slurred speech, or no speech at all.

Not all communication is verbal. People with dementia may still be able to communicate in other ways. They may use gestures, facial expressions and sounds to let you know how they are feeling and what they may need.