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How to Talk to Seniors with Dementia

Senior woman looking at scrapbook with younger woman

Learning how to talk to seniors with dementia can be challenging, frustrating, and emotionally exhausting, but it’s an essential part of maintaining a healthy relationship with them. As a person’s Alzheimer’s disease or other form of dementia progresses, it affects the way that individual processes information; this makes it increasingly difficult for them to understand and respond to other people. Use these tips to improve your communication skills with your aging parents or loved ones experiencing dementia and build healthier, happier relationships.

Be Patient and Understanding

When communicating with people with dementia, it’s important to give them time to try to collect their thoughts and express themselves. Likewise, it’s important to speak softly, slowly and clearly, address them directly, and maintain your focus on the conversation. Effective communication is a two-way street, so be sure to listen actively to what your loved one with dementia is saying. Avoid interrupting the person with dementia or finishing their sentences for them, as this can be frustrating and throw their thoughts off track. Be clear, use simple and direct language, and try to break down complex ideas into smaller, more manageable pieces of information.

Use Nonverbal Cues and Body Language

Nonverbal cues can be an effective way to communicate with individuals with dementia. Use gestures, facial expressions, and body language to help convey your message. For example, if you’re asking your loved one if they want to go for a walk, point to the door or take their hand to gently guide them. Patting or holding the person’s hand can help reassure them as well. Also avoid crossing your arms and legs, and don’t look around while in a conversation, as this can be perceived as confrontational or defensive.

Equally important is reading the individual’s body language while communicating. If your loved one is fidgeting, shifting in their seat, or purposely avoiding eye contact, there’s a good chance they’re feeling uncomfortable and need a break.

Stay Positive

Positivity is a powerful tool when communicating with loved ones with dementia. Using positive language helps the person feel safe, engaged and heard. Keeping your tone of voice calm, kind, and positive encourages the person to communicate with you. Instead of saying “no” or “stop,” try to rephrase your message in a positive way, like switching to “let’s try something else” or “maybe this way works better.” Also avoid using a condescending tone and talking too loudly, which will only increasingly frustrate both you and your loved one with dementia. 

Prioritize Comfort

Communicating with seniors with dementia becomes much easier if the person is in a comfortable, familiar setting, which you yourself can create just by adjusting your body language and speech. Try getting on their level and avoid standing over the person to start. Also try to find a comfortable distance to talk with them – not so close that they’re uncomfortable, but not so far away that they aren’t engaged in the conversation. Keep your attention on the person and try to continuously smile and make eye contact. Using familiar words and phrases can also help individuals with dementia understand what you’re saying more easily. Successfully talking to seniors with dementia begins with making them feel comfortable talking with you. 

Memory care in a safe, comfortable setting.

At Oaks Senior Living, our approach to dementia care respects and honors the individual beyond the condition. Our expert teams go the extra mile to get to know each resident in memory care to help create a comfortable and familiar atmosphere in which residents are encouraged and empowered to express themselves. If you’d like to learn more about memory care at our Oaks communities, or want more guidance on how to navigate care for your loved one with dementia, don’t hesitate to contact us today on our website or call us at 770-796-5871.

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