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How to Communicate to People with Dementia

A caregiver communicates with a woman with dementia.

How to Communicate to People with Dementia

August 2nd, 2021

If your loved one has been diagnosed with Alzheimer’s or dementia, it can be difficult to maintain the same level of connection you're used to. Dementia has a direct impact on their memory and many of the connections that have built the close bond you’ve shared over the years. The effects of dementia can also worsen your loved one’s focus, communication and language skills. 

The good news is that there are a variety of dementia communication strategies that could help you maintain and build an emotional connection with your loved one. If you’re wondering how to communicate to people with dementia, we’re here to help. Join us as we break down communication strategies and support techniques to help you bond with anyone who has received a dementia diagnosis.

Tips on How to Communicate to People with Dementia

Do Your Best to Limit Distractions 

When someone has dementia, it becomes difficult for them to hold their concentration. As a result, even the smallest distractions like having a TV on in the background can potentially derail their stream of thought. If you’re planning on talking with your loved one with dementia, pick a quiet and calm environment. 

If you’re wondering how to communicate to people with dementia, make sure any music and the TV are turned off, and close the windows to limit noise coming from the outside environment. It’s also a good idea to put your cell phone on vibrate so it doesn’t ring and confuse your loved one. 

Only Talk About One Topic at a Time 

In many conversations, it’s normal to jump back and forth between different topics. When you’re talking to someone with dementia, you’ll want to avoid this. Instead, focus the conversation on one topic at a time while doing your best to keep the discussion simple. You can achieve that by asking more open-ended questions and adding more natural pauses into the dialogue. 

For example, let’s say you’re discussing a past family vacation. You’ll want to ask questions in the conversation that are specific to a singular event instead of speaking in more general terms. Try asking questions like “Look at this picture we took; what do you think?” rather than asking specific questions such as “What do you remember about the vacation?” 

Expect Good and Bad Days 

Dementia is a progressive disease, which means your loved one will have natural ups and downs. As you learn more ways on how to communicate with them, understand there will be times when you can’t get through to them. While this can be discouraging, don’t let it convince you to abandon any routine that helped their communication in the past. Bad days are impossible to avoid, but you can prepare additional support systems like an at-home care nurse to help you navigate any difficult times. 

Be Direct and Don’t Use Figures of Speech 

You might not notice it at first, but many of us are used to incorporating figures of speech into our daily conversations. The problem is that as dementia progresses, it limits the affected person’s ability to understand the true meaning behind the saying. For example, if you tell someone with dementia to “get back up on the horse,” they can actually start looking for a horse instead of realizing you’re telling them to try something again. 

This fact is one of the reasons why testing someone on the meanings of proverbs or sayings is used to screen for the symptoms of dementia. When you’re talking to a loved one with dementia, be direct and use sayings that are easily taken at face value. 

Explore Expert Memory Care in Florissant, MO 

If your loved one is struggling with dementia and you’re finding it harder to communicate with them, Garden Plaza of Florissant is here to help. Our memory care services give older adults with dementia the care they need while maintaining their sense of dignity. What truly makes our memory care program unique is how we combine custom individualized programming with meaningful activities to help give your loved one a higher sense of purpose. If you’re interested in learning more about the memory care services at Garden Plaza of Florissant, contact us today.