Tips for Communicating with Dementia

Alzheimer’s and other forms of dementia is an awful disease which harms the ability to communicate. Dementia sufferers can have a hard time finding the right words, can lose their train of thought easily, have difficulty understanding others, or sometimes stop communicating altogether. The result is often frustration, leading to negative behaviour that can be difficult for the family. We know that it’s frustrating for both parties, and have found the following pieces of advice useful in communicating with someone who suffers from dementia:

  • Treat the person with dignity and respect. This comes across in your tone, your body language, and your patience. Although they may not be able to communicate very well, the person is not a child and should not be treated like one.
  • Understand the feelings, not the words. Dementia sufferers may use the wrong words entirely to express how they’re feeling, which makes it even more difficult for them to find a solution to their problem. Try to understand the feeling that they are communicating, not the words they are using.
  • Use touch and body language. A gentle hand, reassuring eye contact, and warming body language can express a great comfort to someone with dementia and even calm them down if they are upset.
  • Tone matters. Especially when the words are lost, the tone in which you speak communicates very powerfully to your loved one with dementia. Try not to let the frustration come through in your voice, and always use a calm, reassuring, confident tone. Try taking a deep breath before you speak if this becomes difficult.
  • Limit distractions. If there are a lot of noises and distractions it’s even harder for your loved one with dementia to focus and comprehend the conversation. Don’t leave the TV or radio on in the background, and it’s usually best to avoid crowded places.
  • Use simplified language. If you need to get a message across, use simpler sentences, especially when giving instructions (example: “this is for you to eat”).