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5 Techniques for Talking with Seniors with Dementia


When someone you love has dementia, communication is likely to become increasingly harder. Now for the good news: By being proactive, you can ensure that communication is as effective as possible, so check out the following five strategies for talking with seniors who have dementia.

1. Understand That It’s Not About You

It is critical to know about the limitations that dementia places on communication and why. For example, one consequence is receptive aphasia, which means a person may be able to talk pretty well but not comprehend language at the same level. You may feel like your loved one is being stubborn on purpose, but that is not the case.

2. Keep Things Simple

No doubt you’re used to talking in complex sentences. Now it’s time to focus on keeping things easy and simple. That means giving only one morsel of information at a time. Say, “Steer left,” instead of “Steer left, pass the cereal, turn right, and there’s the tea.” Give each part individually.

Likewise, incorporate suggestions into your questions and statements. Instead of saying, “What do you want to do?” say something such as, “Do you want to eat or go to the store?” Giving a choice allows the person with dementia to retain some control; in later stages, it may be best to simply say, “Let’s eat!”

3. Expect Repetitive Questions

Repetitive questions are one of the more frustrating things about talking with people who have dementia. Often, they are worried or excited about something. “When is Mary’s birthday party?” asked too many times during a day typically indicates your loved one does not want to miss the party.

Take your cue from the questions; write in obvious places in easy-to-read language when the party is. Reassure the person with dementia that he or she will not miss the party, and explain why. Focusing attention on other activities is also helpful; you could ask about the best birthday party experience, and suggest the two of you go on a walk or tidy up the house.

4. Reinforce with Gestures

Use gestures to back up what you are saying. As an example, if you say, “Come over here,” add a beckoning gesture to that. If you are going to the kitchen, you could point in the direction of the kitchen as you explain where you are headed.

5. Remember Non-Verbal Communication

Gestures are one aspect of non-verbal communication. In fact, with the word “communication,” many people picture two people talking. However, there are so many more ways to communicate: hugs, kisses on the cheek, talking to someone even if he or she cannot respond, and playing music. In fact, music has been shown to help people even in late-stage dementia. All of these types of non-verbal communication convey your level of caring, and that is huge.

Patience and simplicity are keys in talking with seniors who have dementia. If you are a primary caregiver, ensuring you have time for yourself is essential as well.