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A Few Tips from the Guide: Communication

Being able to talk to a person is the basis for all of our relationships in life. When the communication system breaks down, troubles begin to add up.

To understand how to best communicate with someone with dementia, you need to understand the basics of the disease, and how it might be affecting the person. Common behaviors in all dementias include progressive memory loss, language problems, poor judgment and reasoning, difficulty with impulse control, and poor coping skills. All of these make the person more emotional, and can easily lead to increased frustration. Imagine yourself in a foreign country – how do you feel if you can’t follow a conversation or can’t find the right words to say? Think of things from their perspective, and understanding communication will immediately be easier.

Communication is 7% verbal (words and their meanings), 55% voice (pitch, tone, tempo, volume), and 38% body language (facial expressions, eyes, posture, movements, gestures). This is important because people with dementia may no longer understand the meaning of the words but they will be able to understand the remaining 93% of your communication. Make sure your body and voice are conveying the same message your words are trying to convey. Here are some tips for communication.

  1. Nobody likes to be talked about, so include the person in your conversation; or wait until he/she is not around if you need to say something that may be upsetting.
  2. Get the person’s attention before you start talking to them.
  3. Give only one message at a time.
  4. Limit choices. If it’s time for lunch, don’t ask the person if he/she is ready to eat; just say, “It’s time to eat.” On the other hand, give the person choices when it’s okay: “Would you like coffee or tea?”
  5. If this is still challenging, stick to yes or no questions: “Would you like some tea?”
  6. Listen for a response. It may take up to ninety seconds for the person to figure out what you’ve said and come up with the right words in response.
  7. Try to agree with at least part of what the person is saying. Don’t start every answer with “No, you can’t!” For example, say “Could you please come here” rather than “No, don’t go out the door!” or “You’re right, we are going home right after lunch,” is easier to take than “You have a long time to wait.”
  8. Change the subject rather than waste energy arguing. It’s impossible to have a rational argument with someone who can’t be rational. Instead, compliment them on their smile or ask for their help, this may derail their argumentative attempts and help you feel like you’re still in charge.
  9. Avoid questions that rely on memory. Don’t ask, “don’t you remember the time that…”, but rather say, “I was thinking about the time that…” and tell the story and allow them to respond from there.
  10. A great phrase to use? “Tell me about it.”

These are just a few tips from Caregiving at a Glance, our fingertip guide for families caring for a loved one with Alzheimer's. Techniques and strategies to empower caregivers address topics such as: troublesome behaviors, communication, eating, bathing and more, all compiled from families at Insight Memory Care Center. While each individual’s dementia journey is unique, we have found that using these techniques can empower you as a caregiver. Get your copy of Caregiving at a Glance!

If you’re looking to learn more, join us for our new Caregiving at a Glance Workshop series beginning in January. A small cohort of caregivers can learn from experts in the field – and each other! – as we work through the guidebook. Learn more!


"I like that IMCC focuses on dementia-related problems and provides a focal point for families to network and socially interact in coping with dementia. It provides a community that helps us in our struggle."