Communicating with someone who has dementia

Confused Senior Man With Adult Daughter At Home

Confused Senior Man With Adult Daughter At Home

It’s difficult communicating with people who have dementia for several reasons. They may have diminished hearing, but most often times they are unable to express themselves because they have forgotten words in addition to losing memories and a sense of self.

Here is a list of tips that come from a caregiver’s guide published by the Aging Services Division of the Denver Regional Council of Governments. The author is unknown.

  • Trouble remembering the right words
  • Repeating words with which they are still familiar
  • Creating new words when they can’t recall the names of people or items
  • Problems with organizing words in a coherent manner
  • Falling back on the language used during childhood
  • Losing their train of thought
  • Speaking less and relying primarily on nonverbal communication and gestures
  • Cursing or using inappropriate words even if they never did so before

The following tips can ease working with persons with dementia

  • Remembering that this person is an adult first and foremost. Keep in mind that they deserve respect and dignity
  • Be calm in your interactions and be aware of your body language. Your family remember is looking to you and your behavior for clues on how to behave him/herself.
  • Speak slowly and in short, simple sentences. Avoid complex directions or dialogue.
  • Avoid arguing with or criticizing the person, even if she is delusional in his/her thinking. Always validate the emotion behind the statement.
  • Indicate by facing your family member and maintaining eye contact that you are listening and trying to understand what is being said.
  • Support your loved one’s attempts to converse even if he or she is having difficulty.
  • Do ot interrupt.
  • Speak in a relaxed and gentle tone of voice.
  • Keep a friendly face toward your loved one when either of you is speaking.
  • Approach the person from the front, identify yourself, and address him or her by name.
  • Only ask one question at a time and allow sufficient time for your family member’s response before you continue.
  • Talk about other people using their names rather than pronouns.
  • Never quiz your loved one, e.g., “Don’t you know who that is? Don’t you remember?”
  • Furnish assistance as needed but avoid finishing your family member’s sentences.
  • Never talk about your loved one as if he or she isn’t there.
  • Draw on your innermost resources to display understanding and thoughtful patience, and try to remain flexible.
  • Rely on nonverbal communication such as pointing and touching to help facilitate understanding.
  • Use lots and lots of touch and praise. compliment frequently to make up for lowered self-esteem due to losses in abilities.

And most importantly, be kind. Put yourself in the other person’s shoes. How would you like to be spoken to and listened to?


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Barbra Cohn cared for her husband Morris for 10 years. He passed away from younger-onset Alzheimer’s disease in 2010. Afterward, she was compelled to write “Calmer Waters: The Caregiver’s Journey Through Alzheimer’s & Dementia”–winner of the 2018 Book Excellence Award in self-help– in order to help other caregivers feel healthier and happier, have more energy, sleep better, feel more confident, deal with feelings of guilt and grief, and to ultimately experience inner peace. “Calmer Waters” is available at AmazonBarnes & NobleBoulder Book StoreTattered Cover Book Store,  Indie Bound.org, and many other fine independent bookstores, as well as public libraries.

2 thoughts on “Communicating with someone who has dementia

  1. Barbra,
    Thank you so much for these straightforward and thoughtful posts. I find them very refreshing . They are helpful to me because they remind me “go deeper” and engage my patients more fully during conversation .

    Like

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