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Communication in Dementia

Tips for Talking with the Patient

  • Reduce distractions like the television, radio, or other conversations.
  • Make surroundings as quiet and peaceful as possible.
  • Get close and look the patient in the eyes; sit if needed to be at the patient’s eye level.
  • Tell the person who you are.
  • Speak in a calm voice loud enough to be heard; do not shout.
  • Use short, simple sentences; one sentence at a time.
  • Ask questions that can be answered “Yes” or “No”.
  • Avoid several commands at one time, such as “Put on your sweater, then brush your hair, and come sit over here.” This is too confusing.
  • Be patient; you may have to repeat yourself.
  • Allow enough time for the patient to answer or do what you ask.
  • Don’t correct, argue or try reasoning if the patient is confused.
  • Don’t assume the patient can’t understand what you are saying.
  • Never talk as if the patient is not present.

Being Present

Some patients with advanced memory loss may be lonely, yet no longer able to have a conversation or do simple activities. Just being with them allows them to feel companionship without being over-stimulated. Speak to the person as if he or she understands you and let your tone of voice convey your friendly intent.

If you are not able to have a conversation with the patient, try sitting in silence, holding the person’s hand, and smiling when you make eye contact.  You can say a few words now and then, for example, “It’s a lovely, sunny day outside,” or “You look happy today.”

Your words, your smile, or your touch will establish that you are present with the patient. Be comfortable with silences.  But you can also try reading to the patient; it could be a religious passage or prayer, a newspaper advice column or the sports page, a poem, or a letter from a relative.