Communicating When Your Loved One Has Dementia

daughter and senior mom looking at camera smiling

A person who has dementia may have difficulty finding the right words; they may repeat certain sounds, words, and phrases, seem confused, and be unable to adequately express themselves. This frustrating condition causes people to feel helpless, anxious, irritable, and depressed – a very difficult state to witness, especially when it attacks a person who is very important to you. Many family members of dementia patients feel as if their loved ones have become mere shadows of their former selves. Fortunately, between the confusion, there are good days and bad, and remarkable moments when the loved ones they remember shine through.

If you are facing the challenge of communicating with a parent who has dementia, these guidelines may be helpful:

Avoid Distractions

Communicate with your parent in an area that allows her to focus all of her mental energy on the conversation. Do not attempt to converse in crowded place, in front of the TV, or while the radio is playing.

Be Prepared

If your parent wears glasses, make sure they are on before you begin so that she can see you clearly. If she has hearing aids, make sure they are in and working. Do not approach your parent from behind, as it may startle her.

Be Positive

Create a positive mood by speaking to your parent with a calm tone and pleasant approach. Be careful to avoid sounding condescending or disrespectful. Use facial expressions, gestures, movements, and touch to convey your message and show affection. Avoid using childish terms such as diapers, bibs, and potty.

Be Clear and Specific

Speak in a clear, distinct voice and use using simple words and sentences. Say your parent’s name, your name and the names of anyone else who is present or is the subject of your conversation and avoid the use of pronouns.

Keep Conversations Simple

Instead of asking your parent open-ended questions, like “Tell me about the house you grew up in,” frame your questions in a simple form that will require a simple answer like “Did you grow up in an apartment or a house?” If conversation becomes difficult, a pen and paper can sometimes be helpful.

Focus on One Topic

To avoid confusion, isolate your conversation to one topic at a time. As the illness progresses you may have to initiate and guide your conversations.

Utilize Non-Verbal Cues

Put your parent at ease with a smile, reassuring touch, and friendly tone. Position yourself at her eye-level and maintain eye contact.

Use Repetition

After listening to your parent, repeat what you understood back to her. You may need to repeat yourself several times. And, at times, it may be better to wait a few minutes before trying again to communicate.

Ignore Inaccuracies

With dementia comes confusion and delusion. Disagreeing with your parent’s statements is not likely to change her mind. When you disagree with what she is saying, whether it is due to logic or opinion, it’s best to let it go.


Reminding your parent of the good times in her life is likely to have a soothing effect. While short-term memories fade fast with dementia, long-term memory often remains in-tact.

Be Patient

Stay calm and expect communicating with your parent to take time. Do not interrupt her or finish her sentences unless she asks you to help her. If the time comes that your parent is unable to respond verbally, don’t give up; continue talking to her to demonstrate that you still care.

Laugh it Up

Whenever possible, engage your parent with humor to reduce stress and lighten the mood.

What Matters Most?

It is very difficult to see your parent losing their ability to communicate. Try to be patient and understand that even if she cannot properly express herself, she may be able to respond to you and fully experience feelings and emotions. The core relationship that you seek to cherish is still present.

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