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How to Talk to Someone with Dementia

Jun 27, 2017

In the world of dementia, words may fail us. Often we think of dementia or Alzheimer’s disease as losing our memory, but it is much more than that. Dementia is very global in nature and affects every part of our thoughts including the ability to communicate. As a care partner for someone with dementia, it is our job to change the way we communicate with our loved ones, because effective communication is the key to being a successful care partner.

Only 7% of communication is the words that we use.

The other 93% consists of body language, tone of voice, facial expressions, and listening (to name a few). As a person progresses through the stages of dementia, they rely less and less on the words and more on feelings and needs. Our job as care partners is to decipher the feelings behind their “behaviors” and respond appropriately. Behaviors are a form of communication; they are an expression of an unmet need.

The way that we communicate with our loved ones will change often throughout the course of the disease. Each stage comes with its own changes and challenges. The following tips can help you successfully communicate, no matter what stage of the disease you are dealing with.

The Long KISSS

  • Keep
  • It
  • Slow
  • Soft
  • Simple

A person with dementia takes 30-seconds longer to process what we are saying to them. So slow down, give them time to respond. Keep your tone of voice soft and use simple, concrete language. If you are talking slow enough to drive yourself crazy you are probably right on!

Join their reality!

We can no longer ask them to be in our reality, so we must go where they are. Let them know that you are hearing their concerns, whether it be verbal, expressed through behaviors, or both. They just want to know that someone understands them and it’s ok to not always have an answer.

NEVER argue

People with dementia lose the ability to reason, so correcting, criticizing, and arguing becomes ineffective. You will never win an argument with someone with dementia; it is a lot less stressful on them and you if you learn to agree instead of argue. Remember JOIN THEIR REALITY. If they say the sky is purple- then great! That is my favorite color.

There is much more that you can do to communicate successfully, but these three tips are a great place to start. Remember when all else fails a smile and hug can speak volumes.

About the author:

Stacie Naslund has been working with people with dementia and their families for over 15-years. She is the current Executive Director for Spring Ridge Park Assisted Living in Wheat Ridge, Colorado. Spring Ridge Park is a community exclusively for dementia care and practices person centered care. Spring Ridge Park is proud to be celebrating our 20-year anniversary this year where “Our Mission is to Serve Others”. Please check us out at www.springridgepark.com.

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