Anyone who has a relative with dementia has experienced frustration with communication. The person with dementia might have trouble finding the right words, repeat themselves often or become very upset and agitated when they cannot express what is bothering them.

There are a number of things you can do to help with communication. First, never argue. Even if you don’t agree with the person, just agree and change the subject. Nothing will be gained from a disagreement. Second, don’t overwhelm your relative or friend with dementia with lengthy requests that involve multiple steps. Break tasks down into simple step by step instructions. Also, avoid giving the individual many different choices for a meal, for example. It will only confuse them. Third, body language is very important. One should maintain good eye contact at eye level, speak clearly and even give a reassuring pat on the back or shoulder when speaking with them.

One of the most helpful exercises I participated in was The Virtual Dementia Tour. It is an exercise that guides you though simple everyday tasks while wearing devices such as googles, earphones and other equipment to alter your senses. This enables you to experience the challenges people with dementia face on a daily basis. The following is a link to the website that explains the The Virtual Dementia Tour: The Alzheimer’s Association is also an excellent resource for communication tips with people suffering from dementia.

Even in the later stages of dementia I have had moments with clients where they are lucid and communicative. So, just keep in mind even though many of the things they are saying might not make sense to you, try to rely on nonverbal cues, acknowledge what they are trying to say and be supportive and reassuring in your responses.

Roslyn Paine, MSW, LSW
DignityFirst Health at Home Care Manager