Senior Wellness: Communication techniques for dementia

There are an estimated 47.5 million people world-wide living with dementia.

GRAND RAPIDS, MICH. - There are an estimated 47.5 million people world-wide living with dementia. With a number that large, it is likely that all of us will encounter someone who has dementia.

What should we know about dementia and how to communicate most effectively?

Remember that the person with dementia is a person first!

  • Dementia is not a normal part of aging
  • Dementia is an umbrella term for a collection of symptoms – assessment by a physician will identify specific form of dementia
  • As the brain changes with dementia, the person may lose some function of the communication centers.

Noting these changes, what can we do to communicate more effectively with a person with dementia?

Use language which reinforces strengths

  • A person with dementia can make choices
  • A person with dementia can learn and have goals

Move slow and get low

  • Get to the person’s level – approach from the front
  • Look the person in the eye
  • Identify yourself and greet the person kindly
  • Address the person by their preferred name
  • Offer your hand to the person

Keep your messages short and simple

  • Be specific in your direction – instead of saying “head over there”, say “Turn right”
  • Be mindful of your tone - the person is an adult and will recognize when they are being treated as such
  • Be aware of air temperature, pain, etc.

Is there anything else that may cause communication to be a challenge?

Be aware of extra stimulation

  • Environmental noise
    • If out at a restaurant, choose a spot in the corner; have the person with dementia face the wall, with their back to the crowd
  • Be aware of visual distractions
    • Keep areas free of clutter
    • Limit the number of items in front of the person – for example, when dining, provide one or two items on a plate and only the amount of silverware needed to dine
    • Use natural lighting as much as possible

Sometimes it can be awkward to talk to a person with dementia. What can we do in this type of situation?

Allow time for a response

  • Do not interrupt the flow
  • Ask one question at a time

Use visual prompts to help conversation

  • Photo albums, magazines, table top books, etc.

Live in the moment

  • Validate the feelings of the person with dementia – don’t worry about facts
  • Do not argue – you will not win!
  • Even if the person is not able to communicate with words, it is still meaningful to the person that you are there

For more information, please visit the Porter Hills blog at

(© 2016 WZZM)


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