10 Tips to Compassionately Communicate with Those Living with Dementia 

Knowing how best to communicate or connect with someone living with dementia may often make you feel like a lost traveler trying to navigate without directions or a map. The last thing you want is to make your loved one uncomfortable or anxious. But what worked before may not work today.  

At the heart of every interaction, however, is a simple principle — meet them where they are. 

As dementia progresses, communication can become more difficult, but gaining insight into the process can help you find your way.  

Along with the impact on memory, cognitive function and behavior, challenges with communicating will generally progress with the disease. Adapting your approach or responses can help lower stress and feelings of anxiety.  

Communication and Dementia: Common Difficulties

Language is affected by both normal aging and the development of dementia. The following are often some of the earliest symptoms that might be noticed: 

  • Difficulties in finding the desired word, especially when naming people or objects 
  • Replacing the lost word incorrectly or not being able to find a substitute. 
  • Forgetting names of family and friends 
  • Feeling confused about family relationships 
  • Using fewer words or phrases with fragmented sentences 

Communication and Dementia: Practical Suggestions

The following are simple strategies from the National Institutes of Health to consider when communicating with someone who is living with dementia. Remember, it’s critical that all interactions be tailored to the abilities and preferences of the individual. If frustration or anxiety is present, it might be best to try a different method or come back another day. 

  • Ensure the area for a visit is quiet and free of distractions and noise. 
  • Face the individual directly when communicating, allowing you to make eye contact when conversing. 
  • Don’t startle the person. Provide a signal, such as a touch of a hand or using a name before starting a conversation. 
  • Use simple words, as well as short sentences. If helpful, speak slower. 
  • Do not speak about the individual to someone else if he or she is present in the room. 
  • Allow enough time for information to be processed and to form a response. 
  • Do not correct the person if what is said is incorrect. 
  • Try different methods of communication, such as writing a word or using images.  

Communication and Dementia: 10 Tips to Try

Consider these tips when interacting with a friend or loved one with dementia to help you feel more confident while remaining engaged: 

  1. Convey love and positive feelings: Make sure your behavior and words express your support, compassion and desire to connect. 
  2. Be patient and present: Avoid interrupting or finishing their sentences. Your patience tells them that they’re valued, and their words are worth waiting for. 
  3. Avoid arguing: As their cognitive function changes, their current reality may not align with yours. Rather than pointing this out, validate their feelings and redirect the conversation. 
  4. Use simple and clear language: Keep sentences short and straightforward. Avoid slang or confusing expressions and use simple language. 
  5. Engage in active listening: Pay attention to what is being said and show genuine interest. However, the emotions they convey may express what their words cannot. 
  6. Use visual and physical cues: If words are difficult, use non-verbal cues. A gentle touch, maintaining eye contact, or using props can help make them feel connected. 
  7. Encourage shared activities: Bridge communication challenges by looking through old photographs, listening to favorite music or doing simple crafts together. 
  8. Respect their reality: If the reality being expressed isn’t yours, join them there instead of trying to convince them they’re wrong. If your grandmother believes she’s a young girl waiting for her father to come home, ask her to tell you more about her father or memories of that time. 
  9. Don’t let discomfort distance you: It’s hard to see cognitive decline in someone you love. However, it’s essential not to let this discomfort prevent you from interacting. Your presence provides comfort in what can often be a confusing world. 
  10. Educate yourself: The more you understand about dementia, the better equipped you’ll be to communicate effectively. Search for resources, workshops, and support groups that offer invaluable insights. 

Source: National Institutes of Health 

Communication and Dementia: Bonus tip – Extend Compassion to Yourself  

Remember to show yourself grace and compassion, just as you extend it to your loved one. You’re navigating uncharted territories, and it’s okay to seek support or take breaks when needed. 

Even if your efforts to connect don’t always seem successful, they express your caring, and that can mean the world to your loved one.  

At Presbyterian Village North, we support both the individual and the family as they navigate the dementia journey.

We focus on the quality of life for our residents with a staff specially trained in the best practices of dementia care. Residents make their homes in private apartments while benefiting from the daily interactions with others and participating in our exercise, music, art and cognitive therapies.

We also provide the following services:

  • Chef-prepared cuisine—3 meals per day with varied, all-day dining options
  • Security system in all buildings ensures protection and safety
  • Secure entry/exit/windows in our Memory Support neighborhood
  • Secure Outdoor Patio in our Memory Support neighborhood
  • Safety checks every two hours as needed
  • Emergency call system with pendant
  • Escort assistance as needed to and from dining and activities
  • Convenient access to mobile healthcare services onsite including dental, podiatry, optometry, audiology, mobile x-ray and lab, and dietician
  • Full onsite pharmacy
  • 24/7 onsite licensed nurse

Presbyterian Village North is a compassionate resource for your loved one and your family. Please call 214-355-9015 if you have any questions or would like to schedule a personal visit to our community.