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Brain & Nervous System Health Center

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Dementia: Tips for Communicating - Topic Overview

Communicating with a person who has Alzheimer's disease or another dementia can be very challenging. Changing your approach to the way you communicate may be helpful.

  • First, make sure the person does not have a hearing or vision problem. Sometimes a person may not respond to you because he or she cannot hear you. Not being able to see well may make the person more confused, agitated, or withdrawn. If you suspect a problem, have a health professional evaluate the person's hearing and vision.
  • Don't argue. Offer reassurance, and try to distract the person or focus his or her attention on something else.
  • Use short, simple, familiar words and sentences. Present only one idea at a time. And avoid talking about abstract concepts.
  • Explain your actions. Break tasks and instructions into clear, simple steps, offered one step at a time.
  • Pay attention to your tone of voice. Be calm and supportive. A person with dementia is still aware of emotions and may become upset upon sensing anger or irritation in your voice.
  • Maintain eye contact and use touch to reassure and show that you are listening. Touch may be better understood than words. Holding the person's hand or putting an arm around his or her shoulder may get through when nothing else can.
  • Pay attention to the person's tone of voice and gestures for clues as to what the person is feeling. Sometimes the emotion is more important than what is said.
  • Do not confront the person about his or her denial of the disease. Arguments will not help either of you.
  • Continue to treat the person with dignity and respect.
  • Allow choices in daily activities. Let the person select his or her clothing, activities, and foods. But too many choices can be overwhelming. Offer a choice of 2 to 3 options, not the whole range of possibilities.

    WebMD Medical Reference from Healthwise

    Last Updated: November 14, 2014
    This information is not intended to replace the advice of a doctor. Healthwise disclaims any liability for the decisions you make based on this information.
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