Tips on Communicating with People Living with Dementia: Connect, Don’t Correct

One of my blog readers recently asked me if I could make some simple lists of dementia tips. At first, I didn’t think it was a great idea.

To be honest, I feel like the reader base for my blog is beyond simplistic lists. I feel like those who open their inboxes on Monday morning and see a new post expect more depth and insight from me.

Then my blog reader said, “Oh, this really wouldn’t be for me. It would be something that I could post at my mom’s nursing home and send to my family before Christmas. You know, it’d be for people who don’t get it.”

Ah, I get it. And I’m all in on that idea.

So here goes my first simple list of dementia tips….

Tips on Communicating in Dementialand

  1. Connect, don’t correct. I have seen many families be so insistent on making sure their loved one knew they were wrong that they destroyed their ability to have a positive interaction.
  2. Don’t assume someone with dementia is hard of hearing. Sometimes when you raise your voice, you sound angry.
  3. Be comfortable with silence. It takes someone with dementia longer to process what you say, so give them time to respond before you answer for them.
  4. Stay out of their face. Sometimes when someone isn’t responding, we get closer and closer–so that our face is right in their face. Be careful with this approach…it can make someone feel boxed in and intimidated.
  5. As dementia progresses, it’s okay that conversations get shorter. Keep in mind that conversations can deplete the mental energy of someone with dementia. If they can stay focused on a conversation for a short time, appreciate that short time.
  6. Body language and facial expression increase in importance as dementia progresses. When people lose the ability to understand language, they often retain the ability to understand non-verbals.
  7. Never talk about someone with dementia as if they are not present. Always assume someone can understand more than they can express.
  8. Give step-by-step instructions. Instead of telling someone to brush their teeth, start with “Let’s go to the sink.” Then say, “Pick up the toothbrush.”
  9. Make sure your loved one is using any aids he or she needs. This sounds silly, but we often forget to make sure individuals are wearing their glasses or hearing aids. Compromising someone’s sight or hearing makes communication unnecessarily difficult.
  10. Minimize competing stimuli. Turn off the TV. Shut the window if you are next to a busy street. Set your loved one up for success by allowing them to focus on the conversation.
  11. As dementia progresses, considering minimizing open-ended questions. Instead of asking, “What do you want for lunch?” ask “Would you like soup or a turkey sandwich?”
  12. Avoid “non-question” questions. Don’t ask, “Do you want to take your medication?” if “no” is not an acceptable response. Say, “It’s time to take your medication.”
  13. Consider the timing of visits and conversations. If you would like to have an important talk or quality visit with someone who has dementia, think about what time of day will work best. If a person usually takes a nap around 2 pm, they are not likely to be at their best if you stop by at 1:45.
  14. Don’t judge a conversation by whether or not the content makes sense. Judge a conversation by the connection.
  15. Remember that you can still have a pleasant conversation with someone if they don’t remember who you are. Stop arguing about your identity and relationship to the person with dementia.

Tune in next week…when I provide another handy-dandy dementia list that you can show your friends and family who don’t really get it.

7 thoughts on “Tips on Communicating with People Living with Dementia: Connect, Don’t Correct

  1. Great tips Elaine! Every single one helps both the person with dementia and the caregiver and the family and everyone be more serene and happy. Thanks for making the list!


  2. These are so great and once again I want to share them with the world—and that includes our “trained” nighttime caregivers and the nurses at the KU Alzheimer’s Disease Center!! I had to tell the nurse at the KUADC multiple times that Mom wasn’t hard of hearing and she didn’t need to yell. The second time I wasn’t so nice about it! My poor mom wasn’t able to respond because she didn’t understand the words coming out the nurses mouth, but her eyes got as big as saucers because she DID understand that she was being yelled at!

    Number 7 is a HUGE pet peeve of mine too. Our nighttime caregivers do this all the time and I’ve talked to their supervisor about it multiple times. Again, Mom doesn’t understand the words but she knows by their pronouns, gestures and body language that they’re talking about her and it is so disrespectful!

    My other pet peeve is baby talk. 😡 We have one caregiver that Mom just hates with a passion, and it took me so long to figure out why, because I usually talked to her privately when Mom was out of the room. Then one day I was sitting with Mom at the table with a bunch of activity books when this caregiver arrived. I saw the flash of rage in my mom’s eyes (even though she doesn’t even remember that ANY helpers come every night, let alone who they are) and then the caregiver walked over and said 🎶“Are you coloring?”🎵in this ridiculous sing-songy voice that about sent me through the roof. It was just perfect proof of the dementia rule of thumb that I heard when I first started this journey: your loved one won’t remember what you said or did, but only how you made them feel.

    Okay, rant over. Sorry for the novel!

    Liked by 2 people

    1. Ha! You aren’t the only one to be driven crazy by baby talk KLUCE. And then if your mom snapped at Ms SingSong, or worse SLAPPED her, she’d be accused of being combative, aggressive or violent.

      The care workers and nurses (all supposedly “trained” in dementia care), at the dementia jail in which my mother resided for her last four years also constantly yelled at her, despite the fact that Mom could hear a pin drop at 25 feet. Either the training they got was poor, or they didn’t pay attention in class.

      Besides baby talk, I hate pet names. To avoid any possible misunderstanding when I am living with dementia, I’ve created this list:

      Liked by 2 people

  3. Yes thanks, all of these are great. Most important, I would add: Do not argue; agree instead. An extension of that is to “go with their flow” using improv-like building techniques to keep the conversation going. So whatever they say, agree and build on it.

    Also, here is a four-minute video that covers much of the above and more in a fun, easy-to-understand illustrated format:

    Liked by 1 person

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