10 Tips for Communicating With A Person With Dementia

By: Linda Burhans

Many of us do not know how to communicate with a person with dementia but the good news is we can learn! Improving your communication skills will make your caregiving journey less stressful.

    1. Begin by setting a positive mood. Your attitude and body language communicate your feelings and thoughts stronger than any words. You can set a positive mood by speaking to your loved one in a pleasant and respectful manner. Facial expressions, your tone of voice and physical touch can help convey your message and show you care.

2. Be sure to get the person’s attention. Limit distractions and noise. Address her by name, identify yourself by name and use nonverbal cues and touch to help her stay focused. If she is seated, get down to her level and maintain eye contact.

3. State your message clearly. Speak slowly, distinctly and in a reassuring tone while using simple words and sentences. Do not raise your voice, if anything lower it. If she doesn’t understand the first time, repeat your message using the same wording. It is best to use the names of people and places instead of pronouns or abbreviations.

4. Ask simple, specific, answerable questions. Only ask one question at a time. Questions with yes or no answers work best. Use specific words. For example; “Here is your sandwich” rather than “here is your lunch.”

5. Give instructions that are easy to understand. Break down tasks into two or three simple steps. Using visual clues, such as showing him with your hand where to place the dinner plate can be very helpful.

6. Adjust your expectations. Respond with affection and reassurance. Do not use the word “remember”. Do not test their memory or tell them of their deficits. Sometimes holding hands, touching, hugging and praise will get the person to respond when all else fails.

7. When the going gets tough, distract and redirect. People with dementia pick up on body language. Be warm and open when redirecting, to reduce stress levels and tension. By redirecting an individual with dementia, you may be able to avoid or delay outbursts and inappropriate behaviors.

8. Use validation therapy. Validation therapy is based on the idea that a person with dementia maybe sorting through past issues somewhat disguised in the present.
Try to understand why your loved one is behaving in a certain way. What’s the trigger or underlying concern? Then figure out a way to address it. So, for example, if they are hoarding or hiding items, ask what they are fearful of losing. Give a “safe box” that can be used to store those items.

9. Use humor whenever possible. Many times laughing can diffuse a tense situation immediately. People with dementia tend to retain their social skills and are usually delighted to laugh along with you.

10. Get support from others. You are not alone. There are many others caring for someone with dementia. Expect that, like the love one you are caring for, you will have good days and bad days. Sharing with others in a similar situation can be extremely comforting.