Jul 24, 2016

How to talk and communicate with dementia patients

One of the biggest mistakes we make as dementia caregivers is to use too many words.
In other words, we try and explain to persons living with dementia why what they are saying or doing is wrong.


One of the biggest mistakes we make as dementia caregivers is to use too many words.
By Bob DeMarco
Alzheimer's Reading Room

Or, we try to explain to them why it is important to take a shower or take their medication. When they say No, we try to explain to them why they should say, Yes.

This doesn't work.

How to Listen to an Alzheimer's Patient


When Alzheimer's patients are given the Mini-Cog test to diagnose dementia they are asked to remember 3 words. If they have dementia they won't be able to remember those words a couple of minutes later.

If they can't remember 3 words what would lead you to the conclusion that they can understand and remember your long winded explanations? They can't and they won't.

Usually the only thing you accomplish by being long winded is to cause the person living with dementia to become confused. What happens when they become confused? The become mean. Either in their words, or in their actions.

What happens next? The caregiver becomes frustrated and sometimes angry and mean.


There were times when I tried to explain to my mother, Dotty, the errors in her way of thinking and acting. I would usually try to be kind and understanding while I did this. It did not work. In fact, more often than not she would become upset, go into her bedroom, get in bed, curl up in a ball, and refuse to come out.

In any normal situation you would wait a while and try and make up. By that time the dementia patients doesn't have any idea what you are talking about. If they can't remember 3 words, can they remember what happened and what was said 10 minutes ago? No.

Here are a few article that will help you to better communicate with a person living with Alzheimer's. Even if you read these articles before, I suggest you review them again. You can always get new and better caring ideas by reviewing the articles; and then, improving your communication techniques.

1. An Alzheimer's Communication Tip - No More Blah Blah Blah

This is one of my favorite articles and it really frames the issue.

If you use too many words all you are really saying is Blah, Blah, Blah - Blah Blah.

If you say too many words it is likely that the Alzheimer's patients will forget what you are talking about before you get to your point. Long explanations don't work. Long defenses of yourself don't work. Smiles, hugs, and things like touching hands do work.

2. Alzheimer's Communication Tip -- Touching Foreheads and Kindness

This is actually one of the favorites of readers. The article received more than 6,400 Likes on Facebook; and, has been widely shared in support groups.

Do you know the value of a hug. There is scientific that children that are hugged 3 times a day are friendlier and kinder that children who are not.

A good hug reduces stress and anxiety. A good hug tells a person's brain that you truly care about them. And, her is one consideration that is often overlooked - a good hug raises self esteem. Self esteem is often overlooked in dementia care.

Belief it or not, in the caregiver - caregiving paradigm a good hug raises the self esteem of both the caregiver and patient.

Let me put it this way. When I hugged my mother in the morning it felt really nice. She was all nice and warm; and, we started our day off heading in the right direction.

3. The Role of Reassurance in Dementia Care

This brings us to the role of reassurance in dementia care and memory care. One excellent form of reassurance is to tell the person that everything is okay; and, you will continue to be with them all the time (in other words, you will take care of them). If you were sick wouldn't you want to be reassured?

If you don't use reassurance as a tool in dementia care it is likely that your dementia patient is difficult to deal with, often unhappy, and often expresses behaviors that can best be described as challenging.

4. Be a Guide

Be a guide not a parent.
  1. A good guide makes eye contact with a person living with dementia before they start talking.
  2. A good guide smiles and waits until they receive a smile back. 
  3. A good guide doesn't say its time to take a shower, instead, they hold out their hand and wait patiently for the person who is deeply forgetful to take their hand. 
Try using your a smile and your hand to guide the one you love. Keep your mouth shut. Did you know 80 percent of communication is nonverbal. Become good at using nonverbal cues. These leads to kinder, gentler, more cooperative dementia patients.


Bob DeMarco  is the Founder of the Alzheimer's Reading Room (ARR). Bob is a recognized writer, speaker, and influencer in the Alzheimer's and Dementia Community worldwide.

You are reading original content the Alzheimer's Reading Room

"I now include the Alzheimer's Reading Room in my list of caregiver resources for every dementia patient I work with. My colleagues are doing the same. The ARR is a fantastic resource. The writing is clear and jargon-free. The many experts who contribute to this site also keep the content up-to-date and useful." 

Rita Jablonski-Jaudon, Director, National Hartford Center of Geriatric Nursing Excellence at UAB