Ten Tips for Talking to Loved Ones with Dementia

Recognize that they have a disease. Remember that your loved one is not intentionally trying to make your interaction with them difficult.

Avoid distractions. Find a quiet place to talk with your loved one. You can also attend a program together. This is helpful, if you are struggling to maintain a conversation.

Speak slowly, clearly, in a calm voice. Use short sentences and provide your loved one time to absorb the information. Sometimes information has to repeated several times for them to understand it.

Talk about one thing at a time. Individuals with dementia have difficulty in multi-tasking or taking in a lot of information at one time.

Use nonverbal cues, eye contact and smiles. As the dementia progresses nonverbal communication may be your only option. Individuals with dementia respond to 7% of verbal communication and 93% of nonverbal!

Avoid saying, “Don’t you remember?” This question can cause your loved one to feel distress.

Have patience. Lower your expectations and appreciate the small gifts from your visits. Perhaps your loved one smiled or remembered your name.

Understand that the journey of dementia is like riding on a roller coaster. There will be good days and bad days.

Approach your loved one from the front. As you are coming closer to your loved one, start to say hello. Kneel down if possible. Establish eye contact and ask permission to touch them. For example, “Mom, would it be okay to hold your hand?”

If during your visit with your loved one speaks of things in the past, do not correct them. As the dementia progresses, old memories are the ones that remain. Validate their feelings and use “therapeutic fibbing” as a technique. Therapeutic fibbing involves going where your loved one is. It is unrealistic to expect the individual to accept a reality that they no longer live in, remember, or understand. It is an act of love…perhaps the kindest lie of all.

Gwen Kaldenberg, MA, MSW, ALM
Director of Menorah Manor's Bresler Alzheimer’s Disease & Related Disorders Program