Communicating through Dementia

By Kathleen Kinlin

Hearing that a loved one has a dementia diagnosis is daunting, no matter the stage in which it’s detected. While there is still much that is unknown about the disease, detection and education have progressed eons from the past. Learning communication strategies as soon as you can will make your loved one’s changes in behavior less intimidating. Finding ways to give and receive support will also assist in preserving relationships.

Communication Barriers

As a person with dementia progresses into later stages, it is likely that the clarity of communication may decline. While the circumstances of those with dementia vary widely, there are a few good places to start in bridging the communication gap with people experiencing dementia.

Verbal Cues and Practicing Patience

Speak in concise, simple sentences. Keeping ideas straightforward is important to help someone with dementia avoid confusion while conversing. Simplifying decisions can also be immensely helpful. If you can make choices less complicated, it allows the individual to keep their agency without getting confused.

It’s also important to give people with dementia extra time to answer. They may need more time to process information and formulate a response. Rushing those responses can lead to mutual frustration and a shutdown in the conversation. Avoid interruption and acknowledge what they say, even if it may seem like a non sequitur.

Body Language Matters

Friendly body language and eye contact are also important while in discussion. You can avoid intimidating a person with memory decline by keeping a mindful space between you. This may become increasingly important if the person begins to confuse identities of those close to them.

Eye contact can be useful to increase focus and helps speakers feel heard. Sometimes they may need gentle reminders to look at you while communicating to increase focus. If the person with dementia is comfortable with touch, holding hands or a gentle shoulder pat while communicating can be comforting as well.

Inviting Outside Caregivers into Your Space

Notice your own frustration with caretaking. It’s normal to feel overwhelmed when someone you care for is struggling. It’s important to take breaks and ask for help when you need it. It is common for caretakers to experience burnout when they don’t have a support system or aren’t utilizing it.

Depending on area and financial situation, caregivers may be able to access adult day programs, meal delivery, in-home care, and other resources to help lighten the load. The Alzheimer’s Association also has an online Community Resource Finder to search for specific local programs. Help and community are available to the Dementia community and their loved ones!

To learn more about communicating through Dementia, consider attending EdenHill Communities’ Alzheimer’s

Symposium on September 14th. The event is free and open to the public. Experts will present topics including “How to Assemble your Medical Team: Who Should Support you on your Dementia Journey?”, “Tools for Overcoming Reluctance in Visiting Those with Alzheimer’s”, “Creating an Environment of Joy and Success to Reduce the Need for Pharmaceuticals”, among others. On-Site Sitter services available for caregivers.  RSVP required. To learn more or to register, visit or call 830-625-1327.