Barriers to Communication | Person with Dementia

Communication Barriers Living with a Person with Dementia

Sensory Losses

• As dementia incidence tends to increase with age, then the person will most likely also have some age related loss of both vision and hearing acuity, e.g. person may forget to wear their glasses and then not be able to pick up the body language of others.

Communication partner

• A communication partner is the person that the dementia client prefers to communicate with. This may be a spouse, family/whanau member or friend or caregiver. This would be a barrier if the communication partner was not available all the time.

Health status

• Diseases and illnesses will have an adverse effect on the person’s ability to communicate e.g. a client with a stroke. The person may have difficulty speaking or swallowing and this would cause a barrier in communication.
• Some health problems which may decrease communication are pain, Parkinson’s Disease, UTI’s, depression and memory loss
associated with dementia.


• Health care workers attitude, people with dementia are very sensitive to the emotions of others. If they are not sensitive to the persons emotions and calm and gentle then the person may be fearful and not want to communicate.
• Lack of effective communication skills for example the health care worker may be taking to fast or loudly
• A noisy environment may be distracting and cause anxiety for the person with dementia and be a barrier to communication e.g. loud TV or many people in a room talking loudly.


• Cross cultural communication problems, e.g. accent, use of gestures, choice of words, will be compounded if the person with dementia is unable to accommodate the difference or simply does not remember
• Person with dementia may lose ability to speak his/her language or not be able to form words or phrases in own language therefore this may be a barrier to communication.
• If the clients’ culture does not allow someone close then this might hinder communication e.g. a female may not allow a male to dress her in some cultures.
• Not understanding customs of the clients’ particular culture or traditions could cause a barrier to communication.


• If the person living with dementia is communicating with someone much younger than themselves there is the potential for a lack of understanding, especially if the person with dementia is living in the
past. The younger person may have no understanding of how things were at that time.
• Age related sensory loss may be a factor for example hearing loss.
• May be confused re time and place or context of conversation and
this could lead to a barrier.


• Male’s may use different words to female’s to communicate and could be a barrier between carers and the dementia client.
• If the person with dementia is living in the past then gender roles and relationships may be much different to what is appropriate now and this could cause a communication barrier. For example a male client may not want to share a trauma from his past with a female carer.

Reverting to original language

• Sometimes a person with dementia will revert to the original language of birth and may recall words or speak the language this would therefore be a barrier for communication with others
• There would be problems if there is no one to interpret the language.

Expressive and receptive communication problem

• This is when the person living with dementia is unable to express what they want to communicate because they cannot find the words or find another way to make their needs known. A receptive communication problem is when they do not understand what is
communicated to them both verbally or non-verbally.
• Also the person with dementia may not be able to form words, name objects or read and write.
• They may not understand directions or guidance from staff.

Communication in Dementia: Teaching Examples for Care Staff

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