Talking to a loved one with dementia

Published 10:00 am Tuesday, December 13, 2022

Anyone who has been a care provider for a loved one suffering from memory loss caused by a form of dementia, such as Alzheimer’s disease,  knows how difficult it can be to reason with the patient.  The fact is that people suffering from dementia or Alzheimer’s disease can often have trouble reasoning or expressing their thoughts and emotions which makes communication with them difficult and frustrating. Knowing the best ways to talk to a loved one can reduce this frustration and help you to stay calm in these challenging situations.

Here are some suggestions you can use when talking with a loved one with dementia:

  • As difficult as it may be at times, do your best to be patient. Don’t interrupt, and demonstrate that you’re willing to listen and understand their concerns. Talk to the patient, not at them. This provides a level of reassurance to the patient.


  • While there are times when what your loved one says makes no sense, see if you can find some meaning in what is being said because it does no good to say something like, “That’s not true” or “That’s crazy, you can’t do that.” See if you can restate what you think they mean and reach some level of agreement even if you must guess at what you think they meant.


  • Don’t argue. There’s rarely anything to be gained by arguing, and it usually makes things worse. If you don’t agree with something that was said, you can simply say, “Okay.” Drop the conversation, and it may be forgotten within minutes.


  • Don’t overload the conversation with too much input or other distractions. Remember, a dementia patient often has trouble focusing, so overwhelming them with visual or verbal input puts them under sensory overload. If possible, converse in a quiet place with limited distractions.


  • Keep things simple. Speak slowly in short, direct sentences, almost as if you were speaking to a child, and pay attention to the emotion behind any responses you receive. This may indicate if your loved one is sad, frightened, or angry.


  • Give your loved one extra time to process what you have said to him or her. Their brains may not process as quickly as you’d like, and silence can be an ally. If necessary, repeat the question or comment using simpler words and phrases.


  • Too many questions can also be overwhelming, and it may make things easier to provide answers rather than ask a question. For example, rather than say, “Do you need to use the bathroom,” say “The bathroom is right here.” Instead of saying “Jump in the car,” say “Let’s get you into the car and put your seatbelt on.” One thought at a time may be the best way to communicate.


  • Put things in writing on paper or sticky notes, and be sure they are short, simple and easily read and understood by your loved one.


  • Treat your loved one with respect and dignity. Don’t talk down to them and do the best you can to stay positive, knowing full well there are times when that seems impossible.

It’s not easy watching a loved one on the long journey of memory loss. When things get most challenging, reflect on the good times, and try to separate the disease from the person. She or he is still the person you have loved, and the disease is the reason they have become who they are today. Remember this is not about you or your relationship, it’s about managing a disease.

Ron Kauffman is a Consultant & Expert Speaker on Issues of Aging. You may contact him by phone at (828) 696-9799 or by email at: