Communicating with People Who Have Alzheimer's or Other Dementias


Communicating With People Who Have Alzheimer’s or Other Dementias
by: Sound Options

Patience, kindness and respect go a long way toward improving communication with an individual with Alzheimer’s Disease or other dementias.  Try to remember that an individual with dementia may be feeling confused, frightened, irritable, or depressed.  Take opportunities to convey warmth through touch, body language and tone of voice.  Don’t take it personally if your loved one is defiant, aggressive, or seems not to hear you. 

Here are some tips to enhance communication:

  • Approach the individual from the front in an effort to avoid startling and upsetting them.  Look at the person directly and maintain eye contact to help them focus.
  • In mid- to late-stage dementia, if you sense the person has difficulty recognizing you, introduce yourself every time you visit or when beginning a conversation. Consider wearing a name tag or sign such as “Susan, your daughter” in large print.  
  • Accompany verbal communication with nonverbal, including facial expression and body language. 
  • Tone of voice is important.  Speak slowly and distinctly, using a calm and reassuring tone.  In as much as you are able, use simple words.
  • A chaotic environment decreases the ability to function in an individual with dementia.  Eliminate distractions, noise and chaos as much as possible.
  • Ask only one question at a time, and allow time for an answer.  Rushing a conversation or activity will increase confusion.
  • Avoid negative statements.  For example, instead of saying “don’t leave the room”, say “”why don’t you stay here with me?”
  • If the person doesn’t seem to understand a question, repeat it using the same wording.  If that doesn’t help, rephrase the question.
  • If the individual is having difficulty finishing a sentence and you think you understand what they are trying to say, help finish the sentence rather than letting them continue to struggle.
  • Be aware that some individuals, but not others, may retain an ability to understand even when unable to communicate well verbally. 
  • If an individual repeatedly asks the same question, keep in mind that they cannot remember the answer you have just given.  After a couple of repetitions, reassure the person that you will be with them and help them, and that everything will be fine.
  • If the person’s native language is not English, and they are in the later stages of dementia, try to communicate in their native language.
  • Try to be flexible and adapt to the person’s needs.
  • When trying to tell the individual how to execute a task, break it down into simple steps.  Give instructions one step at a time.  If the person is uncooperative, stop and try again later.
  • Use nonverbal gestures, such as pointing to an object or demonstrating an action, to help convey what you want done.
  • “Cue” the person by simulating the senses.  For example, if you think the person is hungry and unable to verbalize, bring some food and offer it. 
  • Always remember:  Listen and observe more than you talk, and be patient!


Published on November 28, 2012.