Communicating with Dementia or Memory Loss Patients
Jun. 7, 2023
By Kaylee Yamry
5 strategies to effectively communicate with someone who has dementia or memory loss
People with Alzheimer’s and other forms of memory loss live with damage to the part of their brain that affects thought processes, memory and behavior. While their behavior can be upsetting and frustrating for caregivers and loved ones, it's even worse for them. That's why learning to effectively communicate with dementia or memory loss patients is critical.
The key to more positive interactions with Alzheimer’s patients, according to Teepa Snow, OTR/L, FAOTA, is to understand a person’s abilities and limitations and then adjust your words, actions and expectations accordingly. Snow has worked as a Registered Occupational Therapist for over 30 years and is a leading educator on dementia. She explains that when a person gets Alzheimer’s or dementia, everyone has to learn to be flexible because the patient can’t be.
Here are 5 tips to promote positive engagements with Alzheimer’s and dementia patients:
1. Affirm their reality:
When an individual with dementia or memory loss has an interpretation that is not real, trying to force reality often causes confusion or embarrassment. Instead of correcting the person’s take on reality, repeat his or her words back to affirm that you have heard what is being said even if you don’t agree. Your best response is: “It sounds like…” or “What I hear you saying is…”
2. Acknowledge emotion:
If a person is angry, upset, or irritated about something, show that you think the emotion is legitimate. Your words can make a difference by acknowledging that you understand how the patient feels. Your best response is: “I’m sorry you feel that way…” or “That shouldn’t have happened…”
3. Don’t be specific in your ask:
Frustration results when a patient can’t find the words to answer your question. Guide the conversation by saying: “Tell me more about it…” or “What are you thinking?”
4. Adjust your tone:
Deepen your voice, use a questioning tone, and add emotion or pauses to your dialogue to grab the person’s attention. Repeating yourself and getting louder only increases agitation.
5. Promote engagement:
Focus on discussion topics and activities that the person still cares about. When people feel accepted and understood, they are less anxious.
Being flexible in how you respond to a person's thoughts, words and actions can improve communication with dementia and memory loss patients and will likely make your visit a happier one.
Is it the right time for memory care?
Caring for a loved one with dementia or other forms of memory loss can be difficult and frustrating. Sometimes the best thing you can do for your loved one with dementia is to have them be cared for by a trained professional. This way they can have specialized care that is unique to their situation, and you can focus on being their family member again. Take our short online assessment to learn if it might be the right time to consider memory care. To speak with a professional from our team about memory care options call (320) 335-8786 or fill out a form.
They got him involved in the different activities, and he quickly made friends. He would tell everybody, 'I've got it made. I don't have to cook. I don't have to clean. They treat me like a king!'
- Julie Urke, daughter of memory care resident
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Date Last Reviewed: April 14, 2021
Editorial Review: Andrea Cohen, Editorial Director, Baldwin Publishing, Inc. Contact Editor
Medical Review: Teepa Snow, OTR/L, FAOTA