Communicating with Elderly Living with Dementia

How to Have an Effective Communication with Elderly Experiencing Dementia

Dementia may change the persons capability to communicate ; both comprehending and analyzing what is explained to them as well as expressing themselves.

Effective communication is so important because if the communication needs of a person with dementia are not addressed it can lead to social withdrawal and behaviours of concern.

always remember:

  • Speaking louder is not always better
  • Elderly with dementia may be presenting their needs – as simple as they are thirsty or hungry
  • Behaviors rarely occurs in isolation ; there is a progression from anxiety to aggression that we may fail to recognise
  • Look for non verbal cues like facial expression , clenched fists, pacing
  • Become familiar with an individuals cues

When talking to the person with Dementia

• Speak slowly
• Speak clearly
• Use a gentle tone of voice
• Use eye contact
• Approach the dementia person from the front
• Keep sentences short and simple
• Allow the dementia person time to process the information
• Repeat sentences if needed to ensure the client understands and comprehends.
• Check the client has their glasses or/and hearing aids on and that they are working
• Be supportive and caring with communication difficulties. Use touch if appropriate

It is necessary to keep in mind to constantly orientate the person with dementia each time you meet them. Introduce yourself; call the elderly by their preferred name, inform them everything you plan to do in a very simple approach, talk about issues you’re sure they want and don’t forget to apply open body language. For the most part of your message is conveyed non-verbally or by body language.

Elderly with dementia can also achieve and comprehend the information in other methods like touch, smile , music,singing etc. When communicating use exact terms such as ‘Its time for a cup of tea‘. You must prevent ordering or demanding, motivate and guide instead. Ask closed questions like for example  ‘would you like to wear this?’

Break tasks down into easy procedures and assist them attain independence. You might need to repeat request and it is very crucial not to say things like “I’ve already told you that!!”

Making yourself Understood

You should always grant time period for the elderly with dementia to process details and consider to creatively show what you want the elderly to do. Make full use of hand gestures, smiles and nods to provide feedback. Always think about if your request is simple or complicated, if it is complicated, put into easy concise and exact procedures. If the elderly with dementia has become frustrated, you should take time out. If this is not possible, modify your technique, consider touch, change the subject or let an alternative healthcare staff take over.

The DO’s and Don’ts of Communication


  • Argue
  • Try to reason
  • Confront
  • Remind them they forgot
  • Take it personally


  • Be patient and cheerful
  • Agree with them or distract them
  • Accept the blame
  • Respond to the feelings rather than the words
  • Repeat instructions
  • Give short one sentence explanation
  • Allow time for comprehension

Communication Methods that people living with dementia might use

Communication Aids

  • Use hearing aids, glasses if needed
  • May use communication boards or pictures to identify what the client’s need.
  • Photographs or conversation books, audio books or CD’s for music.
  • Make sure dentures or plates are in if they client has them.
  • The call bell must always be in reach of the client so they can get help if they want it.
  • Use of gestures, body language and smiling from the staff are also communication aids to assist the client to understand.

Body Language

  • The person may nod or shake their head.
  • They may shrug their shoulders
  • May rub parts of their bodies
  • May turn away if expressing reluctance or disinterest
  • Clapping
  • Pull away or be resistive with cares of any nature if they do not want to do the task.
  • Using physical movements like kicking, hitting to express anger. Tapping of feet.


  • Squinting eyes, blinking, eyes wide open, gritting teeth, smiling, angry face and many other facial expressions.
  • Pointing fingers or arms in the direction of something they want or are trying to draw attention too. Banging on walls or tables or surfaces for your attention.
  • Cupping their hands over ears to indicate they can not hear or do not want to listen.
  • Leaning forward to hear speaker or moving towards something they want or like. The opposite is moving away from something negative or a situation or a person they don’t like.


  • When a client with dementia makes noises which are a way of trying to communicate.
  • It could be screaming, shouting, repetitive speech, moaning, sighing or any noise.
  • This vocalisation may be used by the client to express any kind of emotion or discomfort E.g. pain, anxiety, frustration, irritability or pleasure. It is quite difficult to understand which one the client is expressing but you can have a clue from watching the clients face and body movements.


  • Language may be fine and the person may be able to use verbal communication well.
  • Later in the disease process they may have difficulty expressing themselves clearly.
  • They may get stuck on an idea or a word or a part of a word so sometimes you may need to help by clarifying.
  • May use inappropriate names for people or things.
  • Make speak in fragments not complete sentences.
  • May repeat words and sometimes words do not make any sense (Jumbled).

Helpful Tips for Dementia Caregivers

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