Effectively Communicating with Your Loved One with Dementia

For loved ones who are dealing with Alzheimer’s disease or other forms of dementia, the ability to communicate will typically decline with the passage of time. The progressive nature of these forms of memory loss result in the slow erosion of verbal communication skills as the pathways in the brain are damaged. Because of this progression, it becomes increasingly difficult for loved ones to find the right words to converse, as well as to understand what others are saying.

Common Changes in the Ability to Communicate

The Alzheimer’s Association article, Communication and Alzheimer's,” informs us that changes in the ability to communicate can be different for each person with the disease. During the early stages of memory loss, a person's communication may not seem very different. They might have difficulty with finding the right words or they might tend to repeat things. However, as the disease progresses, other more noticeable changes often surface, such as:

  • Using familiar words repeatedly
  • Easily losing their train of thought
  • Speaking less often
  • Having difficulty organizing words logically
  • Inventing new words to describe familiar objects
  • Reverting back to a native language

Patience and Understanding are Important

Communicating with your loved one with memory loss can be very challenging and also quite frustrating at times. However, it is important to always keep in mind that your loved one cannot help it, and they are not trying to be difficult. Their communication problems are a result of the disease, and they have no control over it. You should never take something they say personally.

It is also important to be aware that your loved one still requires and benefits from continued communication, even though it may be a challenge. By staying calm, being supportive, and applying the recommended best-practice communication techniques that are used at Saunders House, it is possible to achieve better communication that will also result in a more tranquil environment for both of you.

Experts in the field of memory loss research and therapy, such as the prestigious Mayo Clinic, offer important guidelines that can help improve the quality of your communications.

Ways to Improve Communications with Your Loved One

The article, “Alzheimer's: Tips for Effective Communication,” by the The Mayo Clinic provides several important tips that can improve communications with your loved one with memory loss. For example:

  • Speak clearly and slowly – Introduce yourself first and speak in a clear, straightforward manner.
  • Stay focused on them – Maintain eye contact, and stay near your loved one so that he or she will know that you're listening and trying to understand.
  • Keep it simple – Use short sentences and plain words. As the disease progresses, yes-no questions, and only one question at a time may work best. Break down requests into single steps.
  • Use visual cues – Sometimes gestures or other visual cues promote better understanding than words alone. Rather than simply asking if your loved one needs to use the toilet, for example, take him or her to the toilet and point to it.
  • Don't interrupt them – It may take longer than you expect for your loved one to process and respond. Avoid criticizing, hurrying and correcting.
  • Don't argue – Your loved one's reasoning and judgment will decline over time. To spare anger and agitation, don't argue with your loved one.
  • Eliminate distractions – Communication may be difficult – if not impossible – against a background of competing sights and sounds.
  • Be respectful – Avoid secondary baby talk and diminutive phrases, such as "good girl." Don't assume that your loved one can't understand you, and don't talk about your loved one as if he or she weren't there.
  • Remain calm – Even when you feel frustrated, keep your voice soft and gentle. Your nonverbal cues, including the tone of your voice, can send a clearer message than what you actually say. Staying calm will help to reduce their level of stress and agitation.

Communicating with your loved one with memory loss requires patience, understanding and good listening skills. By combining these behaviors with the communication tips listed above, you can significantly improve your interactions with your loved one and create a more supportive and relaxed home environment that makes them feel more safe and secure.

We’d Love to Hear Your Thoughts!

If you have comments or questions about our blog, we’d love to hear from you. We also encourage you to share any of your caregiving experiences with us. Please share your thoughts in our comments section.

Discover our Healthy Tradition of Care and Wellness

Located adjacent to Lankenau Hospital, Saunders House – part of Main Line Senior Care Alliance – has a celebrated tradition of providing exceptional care and services to seniors and their families. It’s a tradition we’re proud to continue.

Today, Saunders House offers a range of services including short-term rehabilitationtraditional nursing care, restorative carememory carerespite care and specialized care for individuals with visual impairments – all in a setting that is warm, welcoming and nurturing.

For more information on Saunders House, our short-term rehabilitation program and other professional services, please call us today at (610) 658-5100 or contact us online.

Disclaimer: The articles and tip sheets on this website are offered by Saunders House/Bryn Mawr Terrace and Main Line Senior Care Alliance for general informational and educational purposes and do not constitute legal or medical advice. For legal or medical advice, please contact your attorney or physician.

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