Communicating with Dementia

Common Obstacles in Communicating

Indecision—when presented with too many options, the person with dementia may find it difficult to make a decision. Simplify the decision by offering no more than two options and try to ask more “yes” or “no” questions.

Lack of Focus—people afflicted with dementia have a hard time focusing their attention on a conversation. Try holding the person’s hand while you talk and sit somewhere quiet where there is no background noise or other distractions.

Suspicion/Lack of Trust—sometimes people with dementia experience symptoms that make them suspicious of others or experience delusions. If the person you are speaking to is suspicious, try changing the subject. Discuss another topic and then come back to the topic you originally tried to discuss. For example, you may ask the person about grandchildren or where he/she grew up. Try not to argue or convince the person that he/she should trust you.

Agitation/Anxiety—when the person with dementia seems anxious or agitated there may be an underlying cause. Respond to the feeling rather than the words that the person is using to communicate. For example, if the person states that she wants to go home, it may not be home that she wants but rather something else that she cannot articulate. Sometimes it can be hunger, fatigue, or just loneliness driving the agitation.

Other Communication Tips:

  • Identify yourself...every time!
  • Call the person by preferred name.
  • Don’t quiz or test.
  • Slow down and be patient.
  • Use short phrases, take one step at a time.
  • Use the same words.
  • Don’t over-explain.
  • Be positive.

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