Communicating with a person living with dementia

In any conversation, messages, both verbal and non-verbal, are being exchanged. As we converse, we not only use gestures, facial expressions and body language to convey our meaning, but we also ‘read’ the other person while we listen to their words. However, we do not always do this accurately.

This can be compounded if language skills are lost and the person with dementia is operating at an emotional level. Therefore, if we want to ensure that the person with dementia has understood our message, as well as understanding what they are saying to us, our communication skills need to improve. Research into communication of feelings and attitudes show that 55% of a message is conveyed by body language, 38% by the tone and pitch used and only 7% by the actual words used (Mehrabian, 2007).

No matter what we choose to do, we need to remember that spending time with someone is a two-way process. We give and receive in turn. This should be the foundation of activities for purpose and pleasure for people living with dementia.

To help this process of communication it is important to understand the person, their likes and dislikes, as well as who they are and what they have achieved in their life. This will assist in knowing how best to communicate with them. In addition to this, summarised below are some useful tips and suggestions to assist the flow of communication.

Using a positive communication approach:

Caring attitude

  • Maintain eye contact, nod in sympathy and listen with your eyes and ears;
  • Always maintain a person’s dignity and self esteem;
  • Where appropriate use touch to keep the person’s attention and to communicate feelings of warmth and affection.

Ways of talking

  • Remain calm and talk in a matter of fact way;
  • Keep sentences short and simple and focus on one idea at a time;
  • Allow plenty of time for what you say to be understood and adequate time for a response. Don’t rush despite your busy schedule.

Body language

  • Ensure that your facial expression and tone of voice match what you are trying to say;
  • Use hand gestures and facial expressions to make yourself understood;
  • Pointing or demonstrating may help;
  • Touching and holding a person’s hand may help keep their attention and show them that you care;
  • A warm smile and shared laughter can often communicate more than words.

The right environment

  • Try to avoid competing noises such as TV or radio;
  • If you remain still while speaking, you will be easier to follow, especially if you stay in the person’s line of vision;
  • Maintain regular routines to help minimise confusion and assist communication;
  • Set up accessible, help-yourself spaces, cupboards, drawers and shelves for independent activity. Include jigsaw puzzles, playing cards, magazines, hobby and craft items and interesting bits and pieces for sorting and handling.

Click NEXT to find out what not to do, and to read the seven ways you can mind your mind
What NOT to do

  • Don’t argue, it will only make the situation worse;
  • Don’t order the person around;
  • Don’t emphasise what cannot be done; focus on what can be done;
  • Don’t be condescending. A condescending tone of voice can be picked up by the person with dementia even if the words are not understood;
  • Don’t ask direct questions that rely on good recall;
  • Don’t talk about the person with dementia in front of them, as if they were not there.

This excerpt from We can, we can, we can has been reproduced with permission from Alzheimer’s Australia.



We can, we can, we can: Purpose and pleasure for people living with dementia

A book of activities to engage people with dementia and their families, friends and carers




Mind your Brain
Challenge your brain with new activities, e.g. learn a language, do puzzles or crosswords, read or enrol in a course.  

Mind your Diet
Eat fruit and vegetables, legumes, wholegrain breads and cereals, fish, lean meats, reduced-fat dairy products, unsaturated oils such as olive, sunflower, canola, and flaxseed.  

Mind your Body
Be physically active in ways you enjoy, e.g. walk, play sport, go to the gym, dance, do yoga, Pilates or tai chi, gardening. 

Mind your Health Checks
See your doctor to make sure your blood pressure, cholesterol, blood sugar and weight are healthy for you. 

Mind your Social Life
Catch up with family and friends, join a club or group, volunteer, or go to events. 

Mind your Habits
Don’t smoke, and drink alcohol only in moderation.

Mind your Head
Take care not to fall, take care as a pedestrian, wear a seat belt, and wear a helmet when riding or for certain sports. 


Reprinted with permission from Alzheimer’s Australia

Leave a Reply

GIPHY App Key not set. Please check settings

Save a life

Carbon tax impact on aged care costs