Persons with dementia lose the ability to communicate verbally as the disease progresses.

However, individuals continue to communicate by relying on other forms of communication, such as facial expressions, gestures, body language, and difficult behaviors. These behaviors are often expressions of fear, frustration, pain, or just an inability to make unmet needs known. In order to prevent or minimize difficult behaviors, we must learn to communicate with the individual with dementia.

Remember, both your attitude and your body language communicate your feelings and thoughts stronger than your words.

Here are seven tips to help:

  1. Before speaking, make sure you have the person's attention.
    • Minimize distractions.
    • Address the person by name.
    • Use nonverbal cues and gentle touch.
    • Get down to the person's eye level and maintain eye contact.
  2. State your message clearly. Use simple words and sentences. Speak slowly.
  3. Listen with your ears, eyes, and heart. Always strive to listen for the meaning and feelings that underlie the words.
  4. Validate the person's feelings. For example, say, "Mary, I understand how frustrated you feel." Give the person reasons to trust that you are there to help.
  5. Engage the person in valued activities. Grab this Life Story Questionnaire and plan activities based on the person's preferences.
  6. Anticipate and meet the person's needs. For example, do they prefer their walker to their wheelchair? Make sure it's at hand when they need it.
  7. Tap into the person's long-term memory. This is the strongest type of memory for the person with dementia. Try music!