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How to Communicate With Someone With Dementia

Written by OurParents Staff
 about the author
6 minute readLast updated February 23, 2024

Dealing with a dementia diagnosis in a loved one can feel daunting, especially when it comes to finding the right way to communicate. Whether it’s mastering how to interact with someone with dementia or discovering dementia communication techniques, these tips are designed to help you navigate this challenging phase and continue to provide compassionate care for your loved one.

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Understanding communication changes in loved ones with dementia

It can be particularly challenging and unsettling when you notice changes in how your loved one communicates due to the progression of Alzheimer’s disease or another form of dementia. As the condition evolves, they might:
  • Struggle with finding the “right” words
  • Make inappropriate comments
  • Become demanding and make unreasonable requests
  • Show signs of frustration easily
  • Occasionally be verbally abrasive
  • Exhibit unexpected sarcasm
  • Have difficulty remembering or conveying previously learned information
Fortunately, by understanding more about the causes of communication disorders in seniors and learning how to talk to someone with Alzheimer’s, you can better navigate these changes and maintain a meaningful connection with your loved one.

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How to talk to someone with dementia

Effective communication begins with active listening. This is especially true when caring for a loved one with dementia. As a caregiver, it’s important to create a safe environment where your loved one feels comfortable to express what they’re truly feeling. You can create this environment in two ways: verbal or nonverbal communication.

Verbal Communication

If you’re unsure what to say to someone with dementia, the following tips can help you get started speaking with your loved one in a way that is beneficial for you both.
  • Use clear, short, and positive phrases
  • Speak slowly, giving 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
  • 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, try some of the nonverbal tips below

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Nonverbal Communication

Although it may seem like most communication happens verbally, research has shown that nonverbal communication can have a bigger impact.[01] Consider the many elements of nonverbal communication when deciding how to communicate with someone with dementia:
  • Facial Expressions: Be aware of what your facial expressions convey 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 say. Always approach your loved one from the front, and try to be at eye level when speaking to them.
  • Gestures: 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. Their body language may not fully tell you how they feel or what they’re trying to express because of rigidity or slow movement. However, they will be able to clearly read your body language.
Remember, in stressful moments, the key is to stay calm and approachable. There’s no single right way to engage someone with dementia, so it’s important to be flexible and patient. By adopting this open, supportive approach, you can reassure your loved one that you are there to listen and help, regardless of dementia behaviors and communication barriers.
Learning how to talk to someone with early-stage dementia requires patience, empathy, and understanding. As your loved one’s needs evolve, so might your approach to caring for them. If you find that providing care becomes overwhelming, it’s okay to seek additional support. Contact a Senior Care Advisor to learn more about memory care or assisted living facilities to ensure that your loved one continues to receive the best possible care in a setting that meets their changing needs.


  1. University of Texas Permian Basin. (2024). How Much of Communication Is Nonverbal?

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OurParents Staff

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