15 Communication Strategies for Someone with Dementia

It is unbelievably painful to witness a loved one with Alzheimer’s disease, or any other type of dementia deteriorating. As the disease becomes more advanced, we see forgetfulness slowly transform into severe decline in memory, language, problem solving, and thinking skills. Eventually our loved one loses their individuality completely.

Therefore, understanding how to connect and communicate with our loved ones is so important. Learn about the communication strategies for dementia.

Communication Strategies for Someone with Dementia


We have often heard people use the phrase, “they are an empty shell” when describing a loved one in the later stages of the dementia. Unfortunately, dementia does transform people into a shadow of their former selves.  
It is important to remember that even though the shell may become more and more difficult to open. And some days it might not open at all. But never forget that there is a beautiful pearl inside.
Learning how to “open the shell” gives us the opportunity to connect with our loved one even if only for a moment. The right tools and technique are required to shuck an oyster. The same can be said about the technique involved with communicating or connecting emotionally with a loved one who has Alzheimer’s or dementia.

15 tips on how to effectively communicate with people who have moderate to severe dementia


  1. Set a positive mood as you begin interacting. Speak in a positive friendly voice with a smile and use facial expressions, tone of voice and physical touch so they understand your message and see your feelings of affection.
  2. Understand what you’re up against. Dementia will get worse with time. People with dementia gradually have a more difficult time understanding things, as well as communicating with people.
  3. Set a positive mood as you begin interacting. Speak in a positive friendly voice with a smile and use facial expressions, tone of voice and physical touch so they understand your message and see your feelings of affection
  4. Avoid distractions. Find a place and time to talk when there aren’t a lot of distractions. This helps your loved one to focus their mental energy on the conversation.
  5. Speak clearly and naturally in a warm calm voice. Speak in simple sentences. Speak slowly and clearly. Don’t speak with frustration or condescension.
  6. Use people’s names. Don’t use pronouns like “he,” “she,” and “they”. Names are important when speaking to a loved one with dementia. For example: “Hi, Grandma.  It’s me, Jeff,” is preferable compared to “Hi. It’s me.”
  7. Stick to one subject at a time. People with dementia may find it difficult to track changes of subject. It becomes difficult for them to hold a conversation with several subjects involved.
  8. Ask simple questions that are easy to answer. Ask just one questions at a time. Questions with a yes or no answer work the best. Visual prompts or cues may also help clarify the question.
  9. Use nonverbal cues. Maintain eye contact and smile. It helps put your loved one at ease and will facilitate peace if not understanding. When dementia is very advanced, nonverbal communication becomes the only option available.
  10. Listen actively. A time may come when you don’t understand something your loved one is saying. Simply and politely let them know that you don’t understand.
  11. Don’t argue or correct. The conversation with your loved one isn’t very likely to go well if you are correcting every inaccurate statement. Let delusions and misstatements go.
  12. When it gets tough, distract and redirect – If your loved one gets upset or agitated, change the subject or location. Acknowledge that they are upset and then suggest a new location or subject.
  13. Patience. Speak slowly to give your loved one time to process what you say. If you ask a question, give them a moment to answer. Don’t get frustrated if they are unable to follow along.
  14. There will be good days and bad days. Dementia sufferers tend to experience a downward decline, but people with dementia still have ups and downs just like anyone else.
  15. The Good Old Days. Remembering the past is a soothing activity.  They may not remember what happened 30 minutes ago, but they tend to remember things in their lives 30 years ago. Questions that involve short term memory may cause problems.

Caring for someone with dementia can be difficult and make communication difficult. By improving your communication skills will help make caregiving less stressful for both of you and may help improve the relationship. It also helps to deal with difficult behavior that you may experience with someone with dementia.

​Learn about the differences between normal aging and dementia.

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