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How To Talk To Someone With Dementia

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A senior man with dementia and a young nurse smiling at each other.

Dementia often proves to be more complicated than it can seem at first glance. In fact, it’s a complex condition that can affect almost every facet of your loved one’s life. But dementia involves more than just declines in memory and recall—it can also significantly affect a person’s ability to communicate. So how do you talk to someone with dementia?

When trying to communicate with someone living with dementia, you’ll need to make some adjustments. Try to:

  • Create a welcoming environment
  • Be patient and present
  • Keep it simple and clear
  • Use positive and affirming language
  • Speak slowly and calmly
  • Listen actively and empathize

How Dementia Affects Communication

Dementia, a complex group of neurodegenerative disorders, is well-known for how it affects a person’s cognitive abilities, memory, and more. This condition results in damaged cells throughout the brain, leading to symptoms such as:

  • Memory loss
  • Difficulties with problem-solving
  • Disorientation
  • Poor judgment
  • Wandering

One key aspect of dementia is how it  affects communication skills. As dementia progresses, a senior may begin to have difficulties finding the right words or using language properly. They may repeat themselves, lose track of conversations, or even become agitated.

This can make communication with a loved one with dementia much more difficult. Fortunately, small adjustments to your communication style can enable you to speak more effectively with—and strengthen your bond with— a loved one living with dementia.

Create a Welcoming Environment

The first step in talking to someone with dementia is creating a warm, inviting atmosphere. Try to choose a location that’s both quiet and comfortable, and eliminate any distractions like loud noises or background music. This helps keep your loved one focused on the conversation at hand. Gentle lighting and familiar objects can do wonders for creating a safe space where a person with dementia can feel free to be themselves. The most important thing is making your loved one feel welcome, safe, and respected, which will encourage them to engage positively with the conversation.

Be Patient & Present

Patience is a virtue—especially when talking with someone who has dementia. Some of the effects of dementia include:

  • Delayed responses
  • Repetition
  • Confusion

If you’re not on guard, these behaviors might frustrate or upset you. Actively try to be patient, and give your loved one all of the time they need to process information. Don’t rush them or push them to answer, as doing so can quickly lead to frustration on both sides.

Being fully present during a conversation is also important. Make sure that you’re:

  • Holding eye contact
  • Letting your loved one finish their thoughts
  • Minimizing distractions in the area

Your presence and patience convey a message of love and respect, showing your loved one just how much you care.

Keep It Simple & Clear

Simplicity is key when talking to someone with dementia. Try to use short, straightforward sentences, and avoid any complex words or jargon. This helps your loved one understand you more easily and prevents them from feeling overwhelmed.

For example, try to avoid questions that offer multiple choices. Instead of asking, “Do you want to eat your dinner now or wait a little while?” try to ask, “Do you want to eat now?”

Clarity is crucial; if you put too much information into one sentence, your loved one might become confused. Also, don’t forget to pause between sentences—this gives your loved one additional time to interpret what you’re saying.

Use Positive & Affirming Language

Positive and affirming language can have a profound impact on a loved one living with dementia. It promotes self-esteem, reduces frustration, and helps keep the environment warm and supportive. Words have the power to lift your loved one’s spirits, so choose them wisely.

Affirming phrases such as “I understand,” “You’re doing great,” and “I’m here to help” can help provide reassurance and reduce lingering feelings of anxiety. These words convey empathy and support, which are essential for maintaining a strong connection with your loved one.

Speak Slowly & Calmly

Keeping a calm tone and speaking slowly helps your loved one process what you’re saying without feeling rushed or pressured. Avoid raising your voice, even if you’re trying to emphasize a point. Instead, maintain a level, soothing tone that conveys your patience and willingness to communicate.

A senior man with dementia and his adult daughter laughing together over coffee.

When speaking to your loved one, try to:

  • Pause often to give them time to catch up
  • Break your statements into manageable segments
  • Stay calm, composed, and positive
  • Encourage your loved one to complete their thoughts

By maintaining an open manner of speaking, you’re reinforcing a sense of safety and trust—which is crucial for helping your loved one feel supported, valued, and loved.

Listen Actively & Empathize

Active listening and empathy are key to meaningful communication, especially with someone living with dementia. Don’t just focus on their words; make sure to watch their tone, body language, and facial expressions. 

This can help you interpret the emotions behind the words. Even if they don’t make perfect sense to you, it’s crucial to remember that your loved one’s emotions and thoughts are valid. Make sure to acknowledge their emotions and offer reassurance whenever possible..

Remember—it’s not always about solving a problem or answering difficult questions. Rather, it’s about being present and supportive to show your loved one that they’re valued.

How Senior Living Can Help

Here at The Legacy at Town Square, we know how important it is to maintain your bond with your loved one. Our team is here to support you and your loved one in this journey, and in our memory care community, we can help show your loved one that they’re valued, respected, and loved. Book a tour with us today, or contact our team for more information!

Written by LifeWell

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