April Caregiver Connection: Communication Tips

One of the greatest struggles for caregivers is communicating with the person with dementia.  Luckily, there are proven strategies for avoiding conflict and making yourself understood.  Use these “do’s and don’ts” to refine your caregiving communication style.


  • Don’t reason
  • Don’t argue
  • Don’t confront
  • Don’t correct
  • Don’t question recent memory
  • Don’t take it personally


  • Treat the person with memory loss with dignity and respect.
  • Be aware of the tone and volume of your voice, and your body language.
  • Stay positive and use humor whenever possible, but not at the person’s expense.
  • Give short, one-sentence explanations.
  • Maintain a calm, pleasant approach. The person with dementia will “mirror” your mood.  If you act rushed or tense, the person will react to your stress and become anxious or agitated.
  • Approach the person from the front so you don’t startle them. Remember, range of vision narrows as dementia advances.
  • Establish eye contact when speaking.
  • Speak at eye level whenever possible.
  • Use gentle touch to calm or reassure the person as tolerated. Be aware that a hand on the arm may frighten someone who is not accustomed to physical affection.  Touch should be used cautiously.
  • Point or demonstrate what you want the person to do.
  • Repeat instructions or questions the exact same way.
  • Tell the person who you are and why you are there.
  • Validate their feelings when they are agitated, or distract them to a different subject or activity.
  • Allow plenty of time for comprehension and response.
  • Accept the blame when something is wrong (even if it’s a delusion on their part).
  • Be patient, be present, go with the flow.
  • Address the emotion he/she is experiencing.
  • Encourage non-verbal communication.
  • Reduce distractions by moving the person away from crowds and noise to establish a one-on-one conversation.
  • When the person has trouble expressing a thought, ask questions that can be answered with a yes or no to help them.
  • Verify what they have said to make sure you understand.
  • Be specific about things, places, and activities.


Don’t Reason

PWD:          “What doctor’s appointment? There’s nothing wrong with me.”
Don’t:         (Reason) “You’ve been seeing the doctor every three months for the last two years. It is written on the calendar and I told you about it yesterday and this morning.”
Do:             (Short explanation) “It’s just a regular check-up.”
(Accept blame) “I’m sorry if I forgot to tell you.”


Don’t Argue

PWD:          “I didn’t write this check for $500.00. Someone at the bank is forging my signature.”
Don’t:         (Argue) “What? Don’t be silly!”
Do:             (Respond to feelings) “That’s a scary thought. (Reassurance) “I’ll make sure they don’t do that.”


Don’t Confront

PWD:          “Nobody’s going to make decisions for me. You can go now… and don’t come back!”
Don’t:         (Confront) “I’m not going anywhere and you can’t remember enough to make your own decisions.”
Do:             (Accept blame or respond to feelings) “I’m sorry this is a tough time.”
(Reassurance) “I love you and we’re going to get through this together.”
(Distract) “You know what? Don has a new job. He’s really excited about it.”


Don’t Take it Personally

PWD:                   “Who are you? Where is my husband?”
Don’t:         (Take it personally) “What do you mean – who’s your husband? I am!”
Do:             (Go with the flow, reassurance) “He’ll be home for dinner.”
(Distract) “How about some milk and cookies? Would you like chocolate chip or oatmeal?”


Don’t Question Recent Memory

PWD:        “Hello Mary. I see you’ve brought a friend with you.”
Don’t:         (Question memory) “Hi Mom. You remember Eric don’t you? What did you do today?”
Do:             (Short explanations) “Hi Mom. You look wonderful. This is Eric. We work together.

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