Communication and Dementia

Ways to Communicate if Mom or Dad Have Dementia

 Your Approach Sets the Tone

  • Do an environmental scan as you enter the room. What emotional vibes do you feel?
  • Treat the person with respect and dignity
  • Kindness, compassion, patience and reassurance are key
  • Think about how you are presenting yourself.
  • Try a calm, gentle, matter of fact approach
  • Use humor, gentle cajoling and cheerfulness
  • Approach slowly and from the front. Do not surprise the person
  • Pay attention to your tone of voice and body language
  • Remember to respond to feelings rather than words or behavior


When you Speak

  • Begin your conversations with orienting information. Identify yourself and address the person by his/her name.
  • Look directly at the person and make sure you have their attention
  • Be at eye level
  • Gentle touch can be very effective
  • Keep the pitch of your voice low and do not shout
  • Speak slowly and say words clearly
  • Use short simple sentences
  • Avoid pronouns and confusing expressions.
  • Use concrete terms and familiar words
  • Try not to quiz
  • Ask one question at a time
  • Ask simple questions that require a choice of “YES “ or “NO”
  • Give one step directions
  • Allow plenty of time for comprehension
  • Use repetition and reminders
  • Write things down afterwards.


 When You are Having Trouble Understanding the Person

  • Listen carefully to what the person is trying to say
  • Try to focus on a word or phrase that makes sense
  • Ask person to point or demonstrate what she is trying to say
  • Offer a guess as to what he/she is trying to say.
  • Respond to the emotional tone of what the person is trying to say
  • Ask family or colleagues about the possible meaning of words
  • Be patient and calm


If Conversations or Activities are not Working

  • Stop
  • Give the person a hug and change the subject
  • Try distraction to a different task or activity: Do something relaxing and known to be enjoyable
  • Accept the blame when something goes wrong
  • Leave the room before getting into a confrontation.


Things NOT to do

  • Do not argue
  • Do not criticize or say person is wrong or incorrect
  • Do not remind person of things that he/she forgot
  • Do not ask a lot of questions that rely on a good memory
  • Do not talk about the person as if he/she is not there
  • Do not take things personally


Memory Aids

  • Provide verbal cues (using your best communication skills)
  • Provide written cues
  • Use reminder notes
  • If person receives a phone call, after the call ask who called and help person write a reminder note
  • Keep a calendar:  Where it can be seen and large enough to read.
  • Have a large clock in the room. Some newer clocks have the day and date.
  • Keep photos, especially of family and other important people
  • Keep things in the same place as much as possible





  1. Alzheimer’s Association education materials
  2. Understanding DifficultBehaviors by Anne Robinson, Beth Spencer and Laurie White.
  3. Years of experience of Darby Duke RN, BSN,PHN, CCM and Pat Goehner MSN


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