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Enhance A Relationship with a Person Who Has Dementia

Dementia may change the way a person is able to communicate  and working on better communication with a person who has Dementia may offer significant benefits, including:

  • Positively influence your relationship.
  • Enhance his or her ability to remain oriented in their environment longer.
  • Assist in maintaining or improving  their ability to perform daily living skills.

A person with Dementia  may experience varying limitations in the ability to communicate. This may depend, in part,  on the extent of the condition, the presence of other conditions, medications, the comfort zone the person feels they are in and other reasons. On some days, a person with Dementia may appear to communicate better when compared to other days. If you notice the onset of an inability to communicate effectively or a change in the ability of a person to communicate, it is wise to seek out medical attention because this may be an emergency, such as a Stroke or Brain Hematoma.   

For a person with Dementia, employing various forms of communication is important regardless of the person’s ability to communicate. Communication assists people with Dementia to remain oriented which may positively influence the person’s ability to perform daily living skills. People with dementia may only be able to follow directions, questions or tasks one step at a time. They may not be able to manage many questions as one would expect in a traditional conversation.  In some cases, people with Dementia may have speech, hearing and/or vision loss, making it vital to get creative with forms of communication.   

  • Let them know who you are and call them by name.
  • Tell them you are listening verbally, by maintaining eye contact, and preventing distractions, such as the T.V. But don’t forget to put the T.V. back on when you leave because even this form of communication may assist a person in keeping oriented.    
  • If a person is having difficulty communicating, let them know its ok and encourage them to communicate by slowly suggesting a simple word, short sentence, using gestures, touching and/or pointing.
  • Refrain from coming across corrective, augmentative or frustrated.  Take your time.  
  • If a person does not respond, try repeating the same exact question or instead of making it a question, make it an answer. For example, “Your drink is right here” instead of “Are you thirsty?”
  • If the facial expressions or tone of voice are the only forms of communication you understand, try to tune into his or her feelings and respond with care for their expressions by your own expressiveness, such as, a short sentence, touching, or hugging.

Special Considerations: Speech, Hearing, and/or Vision Limitations

There are some general considerations for people in the above mentioned categories who have Dementia, as follows.

  • To get the person’s attention, announce yourself by name and gently approach them.
  • Let the person know what you plan to do before you do it.  

For People with Speech or Hearing Difficulties, address the person from the front view to communicate face to face. You may speak slowly in a lower tone voice, point, gesture, touch or write things down when necessary. For people with hearing aids, check the batteries regularly. Consider using adjuncts to support continued orientation, such as Getting Healthy with the Arts.    

For People with Vision Loss, refrain from moving suddenly or loud noises, but do consider the use of audiotapes and music. Large print or Magnifying Glasses may be helpful. Check vision when directed to do so, particularly at the onset of greater severity in the condition, such as bumping into walls.   

There may be other assistive aid technologies that  support the needs of people with Dementia. You may find out about these aids online and by asking the person’s physicians, ophthalmologist, audiologist, and speech therapist.    

It is important to recognize that medications and medical procedures are associated with benefits and risks that should be discussed with your physician. It is important to recognize that all information contained on this website cannot be considered to be specific medical diagnosis, medical treatment, or medical advice. As always, you should consult with a physician regarding any medical condition.