Dementia and Alzheimer’s: 10 Tips for Better Communication

Dementia and Alzheimer's

Dementia and Alzheimer’s: 10 Tips for Better Communication

Practical advice on how to communicate with someone suffering from dementia, to include how to speak, what to say, and more effective listening.

April 6, 2020


Providing care to those with dementia can be a tough job. This is especially true if you are doing it for the first time. If you are caring for someone afflicted with dementia or Alzheimer’s, you need to understand that the actions of those with dementia is out of their control above all else. 

They may be unable to speak effortlessly. They may not be able to write, read, or understand your emotions or expressions very well. As a caregiver, you will have to both understand their condition and know how to effectively communicate with them. 

To help you, here are 10 tips to help communicate with someone that has dementia.

Focus their attention

Dementia can make it challenging to communicate with as is. Loud and distracting background noise fosters even more distractions. If there’s a lot of background noise from the TV, traffic, or others speaking around you the chances of effectively communicating decreases.

Reduce or remove distractions around you. Turn off the TV and radio, silence the cell phone, and make family members aware about keeping the volume down. This will make it easier for them to understand what you’re saying.

When the discussion is a challenge, divert and redirect

When your loved one gets upset or agitated, change the subject or the environment. It is vital to acknowledge and connect with feelings before you change the subject. For example, you could state, “I  notice that you are upset. I’m sorry you’re unhappy right now. Let’s go for a walk.”

Take it easy

It’s probably that you talk and move more quickly than someone who has Alzheimer’s or dementia. If you’re striving to have a productive conversation, you’ll need to take a step back and slow down.

Sit down, take a breath, and consider what you want to talk about. Make solid eye contact and ensure that you’re at the same (or lower level) than they are. This will help them to not feel anxious or stressed.

Have regard for their feelings

Consider a few questions as it relates to the emotional state of your loved one with dementia. Are they having a good day? How is their mood or disposition? Try to put yourself in their shoes. Will they respond to humor or other approaches? Or will it likely make them more frustrated and angry?

Being mindful of their mood is crucial. You can use these cues to initiate a conversation. If they appear happy, remark that they appear in good spirits. It can be a good way to initiate the conversation positively.

Consider if you wanted to say something but that you had no way to effectively communicate. Keep in mind that finding the right words can feel nearly impossible for individuals afflicted with dementia. This is indeed incredibly frustrating. By recognizing this, it is important as it will help you ensure that you are practicing patience.

Talk slowly and clearly

Recall that words you use on a daily basis may no longer hold much meaning. Context is important when you’re talking to someone with dementia.

Speak clearly and slowly. Make sure to use simple words and sentences. Avoid the temptation to raise your voice. Instead keep your voice low and calm. If the person doesn’t understand what you are communicating at first, repeat your question or message again with the same wording. If they continue to not understand, wait for a few minutes and try again. Just try to communicate in a different way.

Break down steps or activities into a series

Easy activities can become overwhelming to those with dementia. If you are attempting to communicate a particular detail, dissect it into a series of different steps or processes. Encourage them along the way to do each step in order. Gently remind them of any steps that they may forget. Assist them with the acts that they can no longer do alone.

Be nostalgic

For those with dementia, remembering their past is often soothing and affirming. Although someone with dementia may not have the ability to recall what occurred 30 minutes prior, they can clearly and easily recollect events from many years ago.

As a result, it’s a good idea to steer clear of questions that will require the use their short-term memory to answer. Alternatively, discuss their distant past.

Respond with comfort

Individuals with dementia at times feel anxious, confused, and unsure. They may recall events or have hallucinations that haven’t actually occurred.

As opposed to trying to convince them that they are wrong, consider their feelings. Answer with verbal and physical expressions that reassure, comfort, and support. Many times, providing praise, hugs, a gentle touch, or holding hands can get a response when all else fails.

Actively listen

While you communicate with someone that has dementia, listen carefully and offer praise and encouragement when they talk. If you aren’t able to fully understand, rephrase your wording and check if you are right.

If they are challenged to finish a sentence or struggle to find a word, request an alternate explanation. Be mindful of their body language. That way, you can note if they are getting frustrated. Provide them the time to respond. Resist the urge to interrupt or hurry them.

Get to the point

Those suffering from dementia often tire easily. Because of this, it is frequently better to choose routine short conversations over long talks when you can.

In addition, it’s  a good idea to make it easy for them to respond. For example, try yes or no answers or questions that can elicit a short response. An abundance of choices can quickly overwhelm them. By asking closed-ended questions, you can make it easier on them.

If you are caring for someone with dementia or Alzheimer’s, it’s helpful to understand best practices when communicating with them. By understanding these 10 tips, it can help you take care of your loved one more effectively. 

If you need a little more support to care for your loved one that has dementia, Chosen Family Home Care has an effective and caring program for dementia patients. Our family of compassionate and experienced caregivers ensures excellent senior care at home, whether for a few hours at a time or care 24 hours a day. To learn more about our home care services, call us now or fill out our contact form here.

Consider other resources for dementia and senior insights and tips.

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