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How to Communicate With Someone Who Has Dementia

Written by OurParents Staff
 about the author
7 minute readLast updated April 3, 2023

A dementia diagnosis can feel scary and overwhelming for patients and their caregivers, especially when it comes to effectively communicating. It’s important to continue respecting your loved one’s dignity and personhood, even as their disease progresses. Taking time to learn about how your loved one’s brain is changing and how you can adapt the way you communicate is essential for caregivers. These tips can help you maintain a strong, meaningful relationship with your loved one after a dementia diagnosis.

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How communication changes in someone with dementia

It can be challenging and unsettling when your loved one begins experiencing communication issues due to the progression of Alzheimer’s disease or another form dementia.
As your loved one’s condition progresses, they might:
  • Have difficulty finding the “right” words
  • Make inappropriate comments
  • Become demanding and make unreasonable requests
  • Become frustrated easily
  • Become verbally abusive
  • May become very sarcastic
  • Struggle to remember and/or convey learned information
Fortunately, there are tools and tips that can help you both navigate these communication challenges.

How to communicate with someone who has dementia

To be an effective communicator, we must begin by accepting that the ability to listen attentively is key.
As a caregiver, you must use techniques that provide a nonthreatening environment for your loved one. Your listening behavior can either enhance and encourage communication or shut it down altogether. Try using the tips below to improve interactions with your loved one.

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Verbal communication

  • Use clear, short, positive phrases. If you have to repeat an instruction or question, say it the exact way you did the first time. If your message doesn’t get through after two attempts, add in tips from the nonverbal communication section below.
  • Speak slowly, and give your loved one time to answer.
  • Give one instruction or ask one question at a time.
  • Use a warm, gentle tone of voice, but talk to them like they’re an adult.
  • Use words and phrases that your loved one is familiar with.

Nonverbal communication

Although it may seem like most communication happens verbally, research has shown that nonverbal communication has more of an impact. Nonverbal communication occurs through an individual’s body language. Consider the following key elements of nonverbal communication when interacting with a senior who has dementia.
  • Facial Expressions: Be aware of what your facial expressions are conveying to your loved one.
  • Eye Contact: Ensure that you have made eye contact with your loved one and that their attention is focused on you and what you are saying. Always approach your loved one from the front, and try to be at eye level when speaking to them.
  • Gestures and Touch: Calmly use nonverbal signs such as pointing, waving, and other gestures in combination with your words. Give nonverbal praises such as smiles and head nods when appropriate.
  • Tone of Voice: The inflection in your voice helps your loved one relate to what you are saying. Keep it calm and pleasant.
  • Body Language: Be aware of the position of your hand and arms when talking to your loved one. It should be noted that their body language may not fully tell you how they’re feeling or what they’re trying to express because of rigidity or slow movement. Your body language, however, will be read by your loved one.

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We know that in stressful situations, it can be hard to remember all of the tips above. If you take one thing from this article, remember to always remain calm and approach your loved one with a relaxed demeanor. Remember, there is no right or wrong way to complete an activity, so you must be guiding and flexible, but not controlling. By using this open and non-threatening approach, your loved one will know that you are there to listen to and support them.


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OurParents Staff

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