Ways to communicate

Communication is a critical component of our life; it allows us to express who we are and relate to one another. Communication is more than talking and listening, it involves understanding and interpreting.

How does dementia affect communication?

Dementia affects how people express themselves and understand what is being communicated to them. For the person with dementia, maintaining relationships can be a complex process, especially when verbal communication is affected. The following changes are common:

  • Difficulty finding a word
  • Creating new words for ones that are forgotten
  • Repeating a word or phrase (perseveration)
  • Difficulty organizing words into logical sentences
  • Cursing or using other offensive language
  • Reverting to the language that was first learned
  • Talking less than usual

You may find that the person with dementia has good days and bad days - this can depend on the quality and amount of sleep, stress levels and other medical conditions.

How to approach communication

Respectful, sensitive, ongoing communication is the key to positive relationships. Here are ways to help you and the person with dementia understand each other better:

  1. Learn about dementia, its progression, and how it affects individuals. As abilities change, you can learn to interpret the person’s messages by paying attention to both verbal and non-verbal cues.
  2. Believe that communication is possible at all stages of dementia. What a person says or does and how a person behaves has meaning. Never lose sight of the person and what they are trying to tell you.
  3. Focus on the person’s abilities and skills. If the person’s speech has become hard to understand, using what you know about them and what you are feeling can help you interpret what they might be trying to say. Consider alternate ways of expression through art, music or other activities to maintain and enhance communication.
  4. Reassure and be positive. Use familiar things to create a sense of comfort and reassurance and encourage the person to communicate in ways that work for them. Laughter and humour are positive ways to help you get through difficult times.
  5. Meet the person where they are and accept their new reality. If the person’s perception of reality becomes confused, try to find creative ways around the situation rather than reacting negatively. Avoid contradicting the person or trying to convince them that what they believe is untrue or inaccurate.

Difficulties with communication can be discouraging for the person with dementia and families, so consider creative ways to understand and connect with each other. These strategies are successful because they are based on a person-centred philosophy, one that views people with dementia first and foremost as individuals, with unique attributes, personal values and history.


Communication Strategies: Ways to Maximize Success when Communicating with Someone with Dementia, a webinar presented by brainXchange

Communication, an information sheet by the Alzheimer Society of Canada

Also be sure to check out our tips for communicating with a person with dementia and our guidelines on language for person-centered care.

Last Updated: 05/14/2019