How to communicate more effectively with someone with dementia


In this article: 

  • Communicating with a loved one with dementia presents a lot of new challenges, but there are ways to make it easier, more effective, and more enjoyable for both of you.

  • Someone with dementia may exhibit multiple signs of struggling to communicate.

  • Providence providers share ways to simplify your conversations while keeping your loved one engaged.

If someone you care about has been diagnosed with a form of dementia, you’ve probably struggled to communicate with them, and may have even altered your approach.

The challenges of breaking down your communication into simple ideas, concepts or directions can be frustrating. And it’s equally difficult for the person living with a rapidly diminishing ability to understand others and, in turn, be understood. 

Depending on the severity of their condition, someone with dementia may exhibit any or all of the following characteristics:

  • Difficulty finding the right words
  • Describing objects instead of naming them
  • Reverting to a first language
  • Easily losing their train of thought
  • Combining unrelated phrases or ideas in one thought
  • Relying heavily on gestures over speech
  • Speaking less often

Here are some strategies to help make communication a two-way conversation you both enjoy.

Dementia describes a decline in mental ability that’s severe enough to disrupt your daily activities. It is a progressive condition that causes changes to the brain that lead to increased forgetfulness and a decreasing ability to think, reason and problem solve. Alzheimer’s disease is the most common form of dementia, which also includes Lewy body dementia, vascular dementia, Parkinson’s disease, frontotemporal dementia and mixed dementia. 

Learn more about the progression of dementia and Alzheimer’s disease and challenges of communicating with someone with the condition from Dr. Maureen Nash at Providence Elder Place in Portland, Oregon. Listen to the conversation here.


Find a doctor

The team of specialists at Providence understand that caring for someone with dementia requires a wide range of services to help you meet the changing physical, emotional and mental needs of everyone involved. You can find a Providence geriatric specialist using our provider directory

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Related resources

For people with Alzheimer's, music brings sweet memories

Worried About an Elderly Parent or a Spouse? Nurse Next Door Can Help

Video: HealthBreak | Dementia Dr. Andrea Smith with Providence Montana explains the symptoms

Brain center offers comprehensive dementia care

Future of Health Podcast: Alzheimer’s and dementia with Dr. Maureen Nash


This information is not intended as a substitute for professional medical care. Always follow your healthcare professional's instructions.

About the Author

From how to identify and treat heart diseases to exercise tips to maintain an active lifestyle, the Providence Senior's Health team is committed to providing real-world advice that is hyper-relevant to helping those 65+ find ways stay young at heart

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