Sep 11, 2016

How to Connect and Communicate with a Person Living with Dementia

When two people know each other for a long time they are like two individual circles who become connected.


Alzheimer's care and dementia care learning how to communicate
By Bob DeMarco
Alzheimer's Reading Room

Each person is a circle and the intersection of those two circles contains their common experiences. From experience they gain knowledge of each; and, this in turn is how they relate to each other.

The larger the life intersection the greater the understanding and the stronger the relationship - the bond.


When dementia strikes (most probably Alzheimer's) there is often a shift in this dynamic.

This shift occurs because one of the two persons starts having problems with their memory and brain; and, this causes changes in the way they are able relate.

The communication dynamic changes. It often seems like the 2 circles have grown apart. Or, like they are no longer connected.

Listen to the Podcast



The following articles support this podcast.

1. Alzheimer's World -- Two Circles Trying to Intersect
2. Alzheimer's Caregiver Lament -- This is Not the Person I Knew
3. Learning How to Communicate with Someone Living with Alzheimer's
4. Alzheimer's Communication Tip -- Touching Foreheads and Kindness
5. The Role of Reassurance in Dementia Care

How to Connect with a Person Living with Dementia


Podcast Transcript

When two people know each other for a long time they are like two individual circles who become connected.

Each person is a circle and the intersection of those two circles contains their common experiences. From experience they gain knowledge of each; and, this in turn is how they relate to each other.

The larger the life intersection the greater the understanding and the stronger the relationship - the bond.

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When dementia strikes (most probably Alzheimer's) there is often a shift in this dynamic.

This shift occurs because one of the two persons starts having problems with their memory and brain; and, this causes changes in the way they are able relate.

The communication dynamic changes. It often seems like the 2 circles have grown apart. Or, like they are no longer connected.


It only stands to reason that the caregiver, family member or friend will try to continue on in life in the same way they always have. They have not changed.

They try to cope and communicate, with the person who is deeply forgetful in the way they always have. Why not, it worked in the past.

But it doesn't work when the person they know is living with dementia.

This causes the person who is not living with dementia to become confused. This confusion leads to what can be described as cognitive dissonance.

When a person feels cognitive dissonance they feel excessive mental stress and discomfort.

They can feel real emotional and physical discomfort that is psychological in nature.

This happens because they do not yet understand how to make the necessary changes to cope and communicate with a person living with dementia.

At times, it seems as if the person living with Alzheimer's and the caregiver hold completely opposite and contradictory beliefs. They happens because each person now views the world differently.


Quite simply, the person living with dementia starts to engage in actions that are completely foreign to us, hard to comprehend, and somewhat impossible to understand (at first).

When you reach a point of cognitive dissonance you are ready to explode.

By this point you have tried to explain to the person living with Alzheimer's that what they are doing or saying is wrong or nonsensical.

But instead of cooperating or agreeing with you, they usually do the exact opposite. The person living with dementia engages in behaviors or uses words that make you want to explode in frustration and sometimes anger.

Of course, we often regret these actions or use of words and becomes greatly saddened, or worse, sometimes depressed.


I had to learn this before I could implement the kind of change that was necessary to effectively understand, cope, and communicate with a person living with dementia.

I wrote about this in an article entitled - Alzheimer's World -- Two Circles Trying to Intersect.

I wrote - It takes a lot of thought, hard work, and the development of a new mental construct of communication and behavior to understand Alzheimer's disease and a person living with dementia.

When Alzheimer’s set in, the way my mother and I communicated changed abruptly, over night.

It was if our ability to communicate effectively had been robbed from us.

I knew and understood these changes were being caused by Alzheimer's disease. On the other hand, my mother couldn't see the change. She couldn't understand what was happening to her.

When my mother would say something mean, or act out crazy behavior, I experienced the same emotions I had my entire life. Anger, frustration, and agitation.


Why wouldn't I? I felt the same exact feelings and emotions that I had been experiencing for 50 years. I had 50 years of practice.

In Alzheimer’s World you come to accept that it is not about you, it is about the person living with Alzheimer’s.

You get to decide. Are you willing to change?


Are you willing to accept that much of what you are seeing and hearing is normal if you have Alzheimer’s Disease?

Or, are you going to just keep on trying to drag the person you know and love back into your world. Into the place that for you is the real world.

Alzheimer’s patients are easily confused.

This happens because they often perceive the world around them differently than you and I do. Sometimes they can’t pull all the pieces together. When that happens they often act out.


How you do feel when you are confused? Do you get bent outta shape?

Feel Disconcerted?

Do you get frustrated or angry? Most likely you do.

However, you can usually sort things out by using your brain. When no longer confused you feel a sense of relief.

A person living with Alzheimer’s can’t do this. They can’t sort things out. As a result, it is up to us to help them. To guide them. To reassure them.

And most important of all, to help them keep attached to world and their surroundings.

As caregivers, family members, loved one’s or friends of a person living with dementia we have to adjust and change. This is not so very difficult to do, and anyone who wants to can do it.

You might not believe it now, but the rewards are great. You’ll learn that persons living with dementia are often wonderful in their own way. And they might just teach to be a better person if you give them a chance.

Thanks for listening. See you next time.


Related Content

What is the Difference Between Alzheimer’s and Dementia

Test Your Memory

Communicating in Alzheimer's World

10 Things a Person Living with Dementia Would Tell You If They Could

10 Tips for Communicating with an Alzheimer's Patient

Bob DeMarco is the Founder of the Alzheimer's Reading Room (ARR). The Alzheimer's Reading Room contains more than 5,000 articles and has been published daily since July, 2009.

You are reading original content the Alzheimer's Reading Room

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