How To Talk With Dementia Patients: 10 Expert Tips

Individuals living with dementia experience the disorder differently, and their care partners often feel the impact of the symptoms in a variety of ways. In the middle stage of the disorder, communication is one of the key skills affected. 

The deterioration of expression often occurs just as people with dementia require increasing levels of help, causing challenges for friends, family members, and other care partners struggling to provide the best possible care. Here are 10 expert tips you can use as you learn how to talk with dementia patients.

Learn How To Communicate With Dementia Patients

Dementia is an umbrella term for neurological diseases that affect the brain and can impact these areas:

  • Memory
  • Communication
  • Cognition
  • Focus

Once you understand how a person with dementia is struggling, you can approach communication with empathy, using effective strategies to improve your interactions. Doing this will make your visits and time spent together more enjoyable and it will decrease the amount of stress both you and your loved one experience.

Technology can be a great way to communicate with dementia patients when you can't be physically present.

Tip #1: Create a Positive Atmosphere

Try to create a positive environment for your loved one by speaking in a pleasant voice and using friendly facial expressions. Even if your loved one becomes nonverbal, he or she will pick up on your feelings through your body language and overall demeanor.

Tip #2 Limit Distractions

When you’re serious about learning how to talk with dementia patients, you will want to minimize as many distractions as possible. Individuals with dementia can get easily overstimulated, which leads to agitation. Always meet in a quiet and private place whenever possible.

Start your interaction by letting the person know you will be turning off the TV, radio, and so on. If they don’t agree at first, wait a minute or two before you try again. Attempting to have a conversation over the sound of a loud television show or song will most likely lead to frustration.

Tip #3 Speak Simply and Slowly

When you do have the attention of a person with dementia, begin your conversation by saying your name and your relation to them. Move down to eye level to help them focus on you. Use a reassuring tone and speak slowly, using simple words. 

Avoid increasing your volume, as this can cause unnecessary stress, and it may sound like you are yelling out of frustration. You’ll probably need to repeat yourself during the conversation, so remember to use the same phrasing each time to help your loved one or patient process the information.

Tip #4 Ask Single Questions and Offer a Choice

One of the most helpful communication skills for dementia patients is how to pose questions and choices. The most effective way to do this is by asking only one question at a time. “Yes and no” questions are ideal because your loved one or patient can make their wishes known with just one word.

While you need to keep the questions simple, offering choices is crucial. Limit their possible choices to two options whenever possible. You can also use visual prompts such as pictures, photos, and objects to streamline communication.

Tip #5 Wait for a Reply

Patience is a key quality when practicing how to communicate with dementia patients. People experiencing cognitive difficulties need time to come up with their responses to questions. It can take someone up to a minute or more to process your words and formulate a response.

You will need to get very comfortable with waiting. When it’s appropriate, you may gently suggest words or names to help your loved one or patient settle on an answer. Observe their body language and nonverbal cues to help puzzle out what they might mean.

Gentle reminders can be helpful when talking with dementia patients.

Tip #6 Break Down Tasks

When you visit or care for someone with dementia, you will likely be helping them with daily tasks, trips, or other errands. As you explain what you’re about to do together, break down the task into steps. 

Work through each step one at a time, providing gentle reminders of what will come next. Use hand motions and other physical demonstrations to help illustrate what is necessary. Approaching your interaction in this way will make it more manageable for the person with dementia and will allow them to maintain dignity and independence.

Tip #7 Change the Subject

When communicating with dementia residents, it’s not uncommon for people to get upset and frustrated. To de-escalate the situation quickly, you can move to a different environment or change the subject. Make it clear that you empathize with the person’s feelings as you suggest an alternative location, activity, or topic.

Tip# 8 Offer Support and Reassurance

Supportive words can go a long way in making someone with dementia feel comfortable and seen. Reassure the person you are talking with that you understand them and that they are communicating clearly. 

Offer physical and verbal statements of support and comfort if it’s appropriate, especially with close family members. Gentle touching — including holding hands — can sometimes encourage the individual to respond when other methods fail.

Tip # 9 Follow the Thread of the Past

Something you’ll learn when coming to terms with how to talk with dementia patients is that the past is a balm for the soul. Dementia can impact short-term memory, making it difficult for people to recall what they did that day or earlier in the week. However, you may find that they remember their past very clearly.

Ask open-ended questions about your loved one’s childhood and youth and give them space to be nostalgic and emotional. Avoid testing their memory or telling them when they remember incorrectly.

Tip #10 Embrace Humor and Laughter

Caregiving for an individual with dementia can be a stressful and frustrating experience. When possible, embrace the little things that make you and your loved one or patient laugh. Focus on and celebrate the strengths that remain.

Healthcare Professionals Who Know How To Talk With Dementia Patients

If your loved one needs specialized support for memory care, you can find it with healthcare professionals who know how to communicate with dementia patients. Regardless of how severe the disease is, your loved one deserves the opportunity to learn, connect, and contribute. Take an assessment today to see if assisted living and memory care are right for your loved one.

For help or more information contact us or schedule a visit at a location today.