Communicating with dementia patients


There is very little within our control when it comes to dealing with dementia. But one very important thing we can control is how we talk to people with this disease. In our home care experience, we have found that making a few changes to how the caregiver approaches the individual with dementia can make the daily interactions much smoother for the caregiver as well as the patient.

Four Successful Communication Tips

#1 Be visible: Make sure that they can see you. If they cannot see you, then you do not exist. Never startle someone with dementia. If you come up behind a dementia patient and put your arm around them and greet them, don’t be surprised if they get scared. Always make sure you have their attention. Make eye contact.

#2 Slow the pace: Demented individuals can still read body language. They may misinterpret your body language if you are stressed or in a rush. Be calm when you communicate. If you are in a hurry, they might think you are angry. Slowing the pace of your conversation is often quite helpful as well.  Ask one question at a time. Don’t rattle off several questions in a row. Use short, simple sentences. Limit the choices of the answer and avoid open-ended questions.  Avoid saying, “Let’s get in the car and then we’ll go out to dinner.” Because the last thing they remember is dinner so they will walk to the kitchen table rather than the care.

#3 Limit choices: Take things in steps. Keep it short. Avoid opening the closet and saying, “Well, what do you want to wear?” because you are just opening yourself up to seeing everything come out of the closet. Instead, ask: “Do you want the green shirt or the pink shirt? ”.

#4 Avoid logic and assigning blame.  “Where have you been? Why did you do
that? Why didn’t you tell me you needed a bathroom?” Avoid using logic. Logic implies that the patient has the ability to work through a process to solve problems. This is why going to the bathroom is difficult. There are a lot of steps to that process.

As hard as it is to care for a patient or loved one with a dementia related disease, remember people with dementia are losing their impulse control and the things they say and do are not logical responses meant to attack you personally.  It cannot hurt you unless you allow it.

For more tips and resources on dementia related disease, visit our resource page