Tips for Communication With a Person That Has Dementia

Communication with a person that has dementia can be a struggle for many people, no matter how much you read about it or train for it. A few reminders, or tips about communication, can come in sometimes sometimes. Whether the person just has dementia or has Alzheimer's disease, he or she is cognitively impaired and will not be able to process information that is given to them at all times. Non-verbal communication – voice tone, facial expression and body language – will also make a difference in the success of your conversations, for the person is often dealing with confusion, anxiety, loss of self-esteem and irritability.

The basic tips are that when you are addressing the individual with dementia, you will need to be looking at him, and calling him by name. You'll need to speak slowly, calmly and clearly with simple words, one topic or question at a time. When he or she addresses you, the person may ask the same question repeatedly, because they do not remember the answer you just get them. It may be best after a couple of times to reassure the person that everything is fine and then distract him with another topic or activity. The man or woman with dementia is in their own reality and everything they say or do is a reflection of that. They may want to put on shorts and sandals in the winter when it is cold outside. It's not reasonable to argue with the dementia patient or to disagree with fabricated stories.

Here are few additional communication tips:

  • Approach the person from the front so as not to startle him or her.
  • Do not rush the person in responding and have realistic expectations.
  • Expect the person with dementia to be disoriented when they wake up and allow time for him to adjust.
  • Use gestures – such as drinking from a cup or eating to explain what you're speaking about.
  • Break down directions for an activity into simple, one-at-a-time steps, and give them slowly.
  • Express your words with feeling, but not in an over-dramatic way.
  • If you become angry, use "I" statements such as "I'm upset and need to rest" instead of "I'm angry with you."
  • Use humor when appropriate to keep the tone light.
  • Showing affection such as giving praise, holding hands or hugging the individual is positive reinforcement.
  • A daily routine and allowing the person as much independence as possible will give confidence.
  • Let the person continue with a monotonous, yet calming activity, such as wiping the counter for over 15 minutes if it is not disruptive. If so, gently guide him to another activity.
  • Be consistent and do what you tell the individual that you will do.
  • Keep talking to the person with dementia, about yourself and family members even when he or she is unable to communicate back with you.