Communicating verbally with dementia. how to help?

People with dementia have communication problems which will worsen over time.

The term “aphasia” is sometimes used to describe difficulty or loss of the ability to understand spoken or written language as a result of damage to the respective nerve centre (areas of the brain responsible for communication).

Due to a gradual progression of language difficulties, communication difficulties may arise, leading to frustration, confusion and sometimes even anger.

The needs and wishes of a person suffering with dementia are sometimes not met as they can’t make themselves understood, so their behaviour may be misunderstood by others, resulting in a feeling of isolation. Failure to communicate properly can cause embarrassment, especially if mistakes are pointed out.

It is not uncommon for people with dementia to begin using a less complex language (shorter sentences and/or a limited vocabulary), start talking less, become isolated, and even end up not talking at all.

On the other hand, the family member/caregiver may also feel frustration at not being able to help the person with dementia, perplexity at their behaviour, and missing the times when they used to have conversations together.

There are a number of practical solutions one can adopt in order to improve communication, but it is not important to focus on communication more than you feel is necessary. Attitude and encouragement are far more important.

How can verbal communication be made easier?

Try to adopt a positive approach. Be patient, assume a non-judgmental attitude, and remain calm. This attitude will give the person with dementia an additional wish to continue the effort of trying to communicate by feeling less embarrassed and ashamed.

It is preferable to be the first to take the initiative by talking to the person on a subject he (or she) finds interesting. One can also try to involve the person in conversations with other people. While a person with dementia may begin to use simple language and shorter sentences, it is important that they are not treated as if they were children, or in condescending ways, or as if they did not exist.

The “10 Commandments for Approaching and Communicating with Someone with Dementia” provides some simple rules.

Approching someone with dementia Communicating with someone with dementia
Stay close to the person Speak slowly and clearly
Use the person’s name regularly Use simple, short and concrete sentences
Touch the person Add gestures and praise to words
Remain on the same level with the person, face to face Give one message at a time
Make eye contact Use afirmative language


Often the words used and the way they are spoken are far less important than the emotion that is transmitted. Therefore, don’t pay attention to mistakes that may occur, and react according to what you think the person with dementia needs and feels and try to support and adapt the language you use.

Article submitted by HPA Health Group