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5 Communication Techniques for Seniors with Dementia

When someone you love has dementia, communication can be a delicate, challenging task and likely to get harder. Dementia affects memory, cognitive functions, and communication abilities, making it essential to adopt specific techniques to ensure meaningful interactions. In this article, we will explore five techniques that can help you foster a positive and meaningful conversation with seniors facing dementia.

1 – Patience and Empathy

Patience and empathy are the cornerstone of effective communication with seniors with dementia. Understand that they might struggle to find the right words, express their thoughts, or remember recent events, leading to potential frustration. Patience allows you to give them ample time to process information and respond. Maintain a calm and compassionate demeanor, acknowledging their feelings and emotions. Displaying genuine empathy helps you connect more deeply, making the senior feel understood and valued.

An honest display of empathy also helps build trust between the caregiver and the person with dementia, especially when the person with dementia feels lost or fearful of others. With a trusting relationship, you will likely be more successful with your guidance or redirection attempts when needed.

Heartwood Homes Senior Living fosters a culture of empathy among their staff, ensuring that residents receive personalized care and communication tailored to their individual needs.

2 – Use Simple Language and Non-Verbal Cues

No doubt you are used to talking in complex sentences. Now it’s time to focus on keeping things easy and simple. This means giving only one morsel of information at a time. Say, “Grab your toothbrush,” instead of “grab your toothbrush, apply toothpaste, and put it in your mouth.” Give each part individually. Utilizing straightforward language and avoiding jargon improves understanding and engagement during conversations. Likewise, incorporate suggestions into your questions and statements. Instead of saying, “What do you want to do?” say something such as, “Do you want to eat or go to the store?” Giving a choice allows the person with dementia to retain some control; in later stages, it may be best to simply say, “Let’s eat!”

Non-verbal cues also play a crucial role in effective communication. Maintaining eye contact, offering gentle touches, and actively listening through nods and facial expressions enhance a person’s communication experience. These actions help convey emotions and reassurance, fostering a comfortable and secure environment.

Lastly, reinforce the above techniques by adding gestures to your words. As an example, if you say, “Come over here,” add a beckoning motion to that by waving your hand to come over. If you are going to the kitchen, you could point in the direction of the kitchen or use the gesture of eating. Remember, there are so many ways to communicate. Offering hugs, kisses on the cheek, holding a hand, or talking to someone even if they cannot respond coveys your level of caring, and that is huge.

3 – Validate and Redirect

Repetitive questions are one of the more frustrating things about talking with people that have dementia. Often, they are worried or excited about something. “When is Mary’s party?” or “Where is Johnny,” asked too many times during the day, typically indicates your loved one does not want to miss the party or that they have been thinking of and missing their son John.

Take your cue from the questions; write in obvious places in easy-to-read language when the party is. Reassure the person with dementia that they will not miss the party and explain why. Focusing attention on other activities is also helpful; you could ask about the best birthday party experience and suggest the two of you go on a walk or tidy up the room.

Another example of validation therapy is when a person with dementia continues to want to go home. Caregivers can help by conversating and easing their stress by asking them to describe their home. Ask what color it is, one or two stories, attached garage, porch, etc. After a few minutes, caregivers can start describing their own home, slowly taking the conversation into talking about their children or pets or upcoming events. After a short time, it is a common experience not to be talking about their home any longer, or any home for that matter; instead, the two people are talking about their beloved pets or redirecting the conversation to an upcoming activity. This technique helps ease the person’s insecurity and frustration of not being at home and has stopped asking about it.

4 – Incorporate Visual Aids

Visual aids can be valuable tools in facilitating communication, particularly with seniors facing dementia. Use photographs, picture books, or memory boxes filled with familiar objects to spark memories and stimulate meaningful conversations. Visual cues can help seniors recall past experiences and prompt them to share stories, fostering a sense of connection and engagement. At Heartwood Homes Senior Living, we often use these visual aids to help redirect a person who is confused or anxious to focus on another topic, which helps them calm and feel grounded and in control again.

5 – Music and Art Therapy

Engaging seniors with dementia in music and art activities can be incredibly beneficial. Music uniquely evokes emotions and memories, even in individuals with advanced dementia. Singing familiar songs or playing their favorite tunes can provide comfort and joy.

Art therapy, on the other hand, encourages self-expression and creativity. Painting, drawing, or other art forms can offer an alternative means of communication when words fail, fostering a sense of accomplishment. In fact, many seniors will save their artwork and show the staff and visitors their masterpieces over days and weeks.

Heartwood Homes Senior Living’s memory care program includes playing music daily in common areas from sunrise to sunset. We have witnessed the positive impact of music and art therapy, promoting cognitive stimulation and a sense of accomplishment and purpose.


Effective communication with seniors living with dementia requires a blend of patience, empathy, and understanding. By adopting techniques such as simple language, non-verbal cues, gestures, validation, and redirection, along with incorporating visual aids, music, and art therapy, you can establish a deeper connection with your loved ones facing dementia.

Heartwood Homes Senior Living in Appleton, WI, is an exemplary assisted living facility that excels in caring for seniors with dementia, offering person-centered approaches that prioritize meaningful communication and emotional well-being. By implementing these communication techniques, we can positively impact the lives of seniors living with dementia and enrich their overall quality of life.