Communication Tips for a Loved One with Dementia

Communication—both verbal and nonverbal—is intrinsic to the human experience. Effective communication, however, far from being an innate trait, is a learned skill.

Throughout our lifetime, social environments (i.e. parents, teachers, friends, jobs, and other life experiences) shape our understanding of the world and determine the ways in which we express ourselves. These thoughts and patterns become second nature to us, and likely will follow us for the rest of our lives. Effective communication can mean the difference between getting a promotion at work or not, or having a deeper connection with your children or your spouse.

Effective communication is especially important when caring for a loved one, as utilizing this skill can alleviate stress and lead to better mental and emotional health for both the caregiver and the care recipient. Individuals caring for a loved one with dementia—a condition which alters one’s ability to think and communicate—may find it especially difficult to communicate with this person, resulting in strained relationships between the caregiver and care recipient.

Understanding just how difficult communicating with individuals with dementia can be, Dementia Friends Indiana, an outreach initiative of CICOA, offers the following tips:

1) Be aware of your feelings.

Many times when we are rushed, stressed, or maybe just in deep thought, we are unaware of how we come across to others. It is important when providing care to a person with dementia that we are aware of our facial expressions and tone of voice. Our loved ones may not be able to verbally express things, but they often are able to gauge our emotions based on nonverbal behaviors and react to them.

2) Become an engaged listener.

Attempting to effectively communicate with someone who is no longer able to express themselves verbally requires tons of patience! Speak slowly and clearly, and repeat yourself when necessary. Listening, rather than talking, should become your priority. Being an engaged listener requires paying attention to nonverbal behaviors just as much, if not more than, words.

If you’re still unable to understand your loved one, continue to be as comforting and reassuring as possible, as your loved one attempts to communicate with you. If you still can’t make out what they’re trying to tell you, it’s okay to offer a guess. Try pointing to objects, or offering suggestions until you get it right.

3) Avoid criticizing, correcting and arguing.

If your loved one with dementia remembers something incorrectly or completely makes something up, go along with it. Arguing and correcting will only lead to unnecessary frustration and tension. Learn to pick your battles. If it’s not something that places your loved one or someone else in immediate danger, ask yourself if it’s really worth the fight.

All in all, communication really IS key. For more tips on how to effectively communicate with your loved one with dementia, contact CICOA’s Caregiver Options Counselors by phone at 317-803-6002 or 317-803-6140, or by email at

More News & Stories

Dandelion blowing a sign of change

Investing for Good: A New Era in Philanthropy

In a world where change is the only constant, the words of Bob Dylan's iconic song, "The Times They Are A-Changin'," resonate more than ever. Within the sphere of philanthropy, these words couldn't ring truer. Recent research has revealed a...
Safe at Home Making Homes Safer for Indianapolis Seniors

Fall Clean-Up Has Become One of My Favorite Days of the Year

CICOA sponsors its 13th Safe at Home Sept. 16 Every 11 seconds an older adult is treated in the emergency room for a fall, according to the National Council on Aging. That’s a staggering statistic. Yet so many falls can...
Lillie Ford Indianapolis senior aging in place safely at home thanks to local nonprofits

From Stumble To Strength: Reclaiming Independence After Falls

Lillie was working as a DeCA teller at the Harrison Village Commissary at Fort Ben on Indy’s northeast side in 2016 when an odd thing happened: She began losing her equilibrium and falling. A lot. She fell downstairs. She fell...