Dementia is a progressive neurological disease resulting in cognitive and communicative changes over the years. Individuals may become less talkative, lose ability to recognize humor, and in later stages, become combative as a result of the difficulties they are experiencing with declining abilities.

This progression can be frustrating and disheartening for caregivers leaving them at a loss for how to help their loved one cope.

Jessica Wilmore, a speech language pathologist and certified dementia practitioner with

Baptist Health Lexington: Outpatient Rehabilitation offers these suggestions when communicating with a person with dementia.

Being informed helps caregivers gain a sense of control in a very tumultuous circumstance, she said. Understanding the following effective communication tips and how to emphasize conversation abilities will improve communication:

  • Use simple language. Figurative language, such as metaphors and similes, can become lost and cause unnecessary hurt feelings, if for example, a joke is misconstrued.
  • Break instructions down into one or two steps at a time. This will reduce demands on the person’s working memory helping them to complete tasks with more independence.
  • Provide choices. Instead of asking open-ended questions, such as “What would you like to drink?” ask “Would you like milk or juice?” Open-ended questions can be complex, requiring the person to be able to remember options which they may no longer be able to do.
  • Validate and redirect. Sometimes persons with dementia will make comments that are untrue. If it is not a matter of safety then correcting the person may be unnecessary and result in the person becoming upset. Going along with what the person says is the best way to move forward while avoiding embarrassment and further confusion is recommended.
  • Approach the person with dementia from the front and at eye level. It is best to gain and maintain eye contact so it is understood that you are speaking and listening to them.
  • Speak calmly and with a friendly, reassuring tone. Loud voices and sounds can be over-stimulating.

Finally, become familiar with resources available in the community that provide education and respite to families experiencing dementia.

The Alzheimer’s Association, for example, is informative for people with all types of dementia, not just Alzheimer’s disease. Talk to a physician about seeing a Speech Language Pathologist (SLP) who specializes in cognitive disorders. An SLP can be a resource for identifying specific problem areas, selecting best strategies to improve daily function and coping abilities, as well as, a source of information regarding progression. Whether a loved one is living at home or requires living assistance, these tips and suggestions may help improve communication and empower caregivers as they continue to support their loved ones.