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Caring for Dementia: Communicating with Your Loved One

Dementia makes it more difficult over time for a person to think clearly, remember things, and communicate with others. It’s hard for the caregivers and the person with dementia. But there are things you can do to communicate better.

Understand the Struggle

When a person has dementia, he or she may have trouble paying attention during a conversation. It may be a struggle to find the right word, remember what a word means, or stick with a train of thought. A person with dementia can get easily overwhelmed by too many voices, or voices that are too loud. And he or she may get frustrated or upset when trying to communicate. As the symptoms of dementia get worse, the person may be less able to use words. He or she may not be able to remember the names of objects or people.

Your Role in Creating Good Communication

Speaking with a person who has dementia can be a challenge. It can be stressful and frustrating for both of you. But there are ways you can make it easier. Start by turning off the TV or radio before speaking to reduce the noise level. Put yourself at the person’s eye level. Make eye contact. Call the person by name.

Speak More Simply

  • Use plain words.

  • Give simple, specific, step-by-step instructions.

  • Repeat or rephrase instructions if needed.

  • Ask “yes or no” questions.

  • Let him or her make simple choices.

  • Limit the number of choices when a decision is needed.

Be Calm, Patient, and Positive

While you’re communicating with the person try to: 

  • Take a deep breath – don’t act tense or in a hurry.

  • Keep a calm tone and don’t shout.

  • Be positive and reassuring.

  • Speak in a normal voice — don’t speak loudly or use baby talk.

  • Use gentle touch to keep the person engaged.

  • Give the person plenty of time to find his or her own words without filling in.

  • Be understanding and open about the person’s frustrations and concerns.

  • Be patient. Remember, problems communicating are symptoms of an illness.

Be Respectful

  • Say please and thank you.

  • Don’t talk about the person as if he or she isn’t there.

  • Try not to interrupt.

  • Don’t say “I already told you” or “Don’t you remember?”

Try Again Later

It’s normal to get frustrated. If you’re not making progress, don’t get angry. Just take a break. Try again later when the person is in a good state to communicate. For example, he or she may be easier to talk with in the morning, or after a meal or rest.

Author: StayWell Custom Communications
Last Annual Review Date: 9/22/2014
Copyright © The StayWell Company, LLC. except where otherwise noted.
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