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Communicating with Your Loved One

Dementia can impact your loved one’s ability to communicate.

Over time, their ability to understand directions or clearly express his or her thoughts and feelings may decrease. This can be frustrating for both you and them. For this reason, you may need to use some strategies and make changes to your interactions in order to have communication be a more successful and positive experience.

“Remember, people with dementia often react more to our feelings than our words.” (Family Caregiver Alliance, 2003).


Set a positive mood

Your body language and mood may convey more meaning than your words – so be positive and show feelings of affection.

Get the person’s attention

Use the person’s name to gain his or her attention, and change the environment to limit distractions as much as possible (For example, move to a quiet room).

Use clear, simple language

Keep language simple, slow, and distinct using a lower pitch. If repetition is needed, first keep your wording the same. If the individual still does not understand, wait a few minutes and then rephrase.

Keep questions simple

Simple Yes/No questions are better to use than open-ended ones. Use visual cues if needed and only ask one question at a time.

Listen with your ears, eyes, and heart

Patience is important. Wait for a reply and help the individual find words if he or she is struggling. Be aware of what your loved one’s body language is saying.

Break down activities into simple steps

Too much information may be confusing for your loved one. Simplify whenever possible and use visuals. Make activities and directions easier to follow, and remind the individual of the steps.

Distract and redirect when needed

Change the subject or situation if your loved one becomes upset. Validate the individual’s feelings before redirecting him or her. For example, say “I’m sorry you’re upset.”

Provide comfort and reassurance

When your loved one appears confused or anxious try to provide comfort. If they are confused with reality, provide support rather than by trying to convince the individual he or she is wrong. A hug or gentle touch may be helpful.

Remember good memories from the past

Distant memories are often easier for a person with dementia to recall than recent ones. Rather than asking the individual what he or she had for lunch, instead ask a general question about the distant past.

Keep your humor

Social skills are often maintained in those with dementia. Use humor and provide opportunities to laugh together, as long as it’s not at your loved one’s expense.

*Tips adapted from Fact Sheet:Caregiver’s Guide to Understanding Dementia Behaviors, published by Family Caregiver Alliance.

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