When it comes to dementia, communication is critical. Adult children and other family members can benefit from picking up some communication tips to help them avoid power struggles and maintain strong, positive bonds. It’s important to know how to talk to a parent with dementia.

Keep reading to discover how to improve communication between family members and elderly parents with memory loss.

Talking to a Parent With Dementia as Their Condition Progresses

Effective communication can reduce stress, help aging parents with dementia feel safe and secure and bolster the family relationship. Below are some communication methods you can use to speak to a person with dementia appropriately at each stage of the illness:

  • Early stage: Early diagnosis of Alzheimer’s disease can be stressful for a loved one with dementia and the entire family. However, the sooner you know, the sooner you can make appropriate adjustments. During the early stages, forgetting to eat and losing focus are common issues. Be patient and kind if your relative forgets words, and resist the urge to finish sentences for them or correct them. Avoid offering more than two choices at mealtimes.
  • Middle stage: At this stage, nonverbal communication becomes more important, and you’ll need to speak slowly and clearly at all times. Your loved one might struggle to complete tasks that involve more than one step and might need visual cues such as sticky notes to help them perform basic daily tasks. Aggressive behaviors and paranoia can present during the middle stage, so loved ones must remain calm and not take these actions personally.
  • Late stage: In the late stages, a person with dementia requires around-the-clock assistance with intimate or basic tasks. They won’t recognize the difference between commonplace objects and won’t understand words. However, they’ll still respond to facial expressions, tone of voice and other nonverbal cues. Keep eye contact, speak softly and maintain a peaceful, quiet environment.


Daughter with her upset mother with dementia.


How Should a Family Member React to an Elderly Loved One With Challenging Dementia Symptoms?

As dementia progresses, aggressive behavior and confusion become more commonplace. Here’s some advice to help make the situation better for everyone:

  • Aggression: People in the mid to late stages of Alzheimer’s disease can act aggressively when they feel afraid or helpless. For example, if you’re taking them to the doctor and they don’t remember where they’re going, they might feel confused and afraid. Because they don’t know where you’re taking them, they might lash out.
  • Confusion: According to the Alzheimer’s Association, it’s common for people with Alzheimer’s disease to experience confusion. The best way to help them is by remaining nonjudgmental and being as confident and reassuring as possible. Rather than arguing or telling them they’re wrong, be clear and concise and swiftly move on if possible.

Communication Strategies for Those With Dementia

To know how to speak to a parent with dementia, keep the following in mind:

  • Use a calm, soothing voice, even when either of you is frustrated or angry. While your parent’s memory is impaired, their ability to interpret emotion is pretty much the same.
  • Be very specific when talking. For example, instead of saying, “It’s over there,” when you see your loved one looking for a spoon, say, “The spoon is on the counter next to the mixer.”
  • Although you should be calm and kind, don’t speak to your elderly relative like they’re a baby. Speak to them with respect and dignity.
  • Use validation therapy, which involves affirming an individual’s beliefs, rather than presenting them with an opposing truth, for the sake of their well-being. For example, if they think their mother is alive and ask how she is, it’s better to say she’s doing well than try to explain that she’s passed away.
  • Focus more on the past than the present. It’s harder for people with dementia to hold new and recent memories than to recall past events. Sticking to conversations about their childhood and youth can make time together more pleasant for both of you.
  • It’s better to get close to your loved one and speak quietly than shout to be heard from farther away. Raised voices can sound aggressive and might upset your loved one.
  • Use visual and aural cues, such as old photographs and favorite songs, as conversation starters.
  • Avoid quizzing someone with dementia. It can be tempting to ask if they remember you or try to assess how well they’re doing on a set day, but questioning them can make them feel uncomfortable and anxious.

Body Language Tips for Family Members

People with dementia have trouble with their memory and struggle to process what’s happening. However, their ability to perceive body language and tone of voice remains the same. If you have an older parent with dementia, you might need to start paying more attention to the nonverbal cues you portray.

Some tips for body language include:

  • Maintain eye contact as much as possible. This will help your loved one stay focused and engaged.
  • Remember that they’ll easily pick up on any anger and fear you portray with your body. Try to avoid moving suddenly or aggressively.
  • Use gestures and point to objects to make what you’re saying clearer.
  • Focus on sensory experiences when interacting with your loved one. For example, pick herbs and flowers in the garden, bake their favorite foods together or enjoy singing and dancing sessions.
  • People with dementia can feel very isolated, but loving touch can help them feel connected. Be sure to give them lots of hugs, and offer them a hand massage.


Young adult son having fun with his senior dad.


Listening Tips for Family Caregivers

Communication is never a one-way street. Adult children of people with dementia can benefit from learning the following listening tips:

  • Minimize distractions when you have an important conversation. Switch off the TV, radio and any other devices so you can focus on each other.
  • If your loved one speaks a language other than English as their first language, talking to them in their mother tongue might be more comfortable for them.
  • Don’t be afraid of silence. It might be tempting to overcompensate and fill gaps in conversation, but being together in silence can sometimes be the most productive option.

Get Compassionate Dementia Care From Dementia Experts in Maryland

If your mom or dad is ready to move into a memory care community in Maryland, it’s crucial you choose a comfortable environment with compassionate, qualified staff.

At Catered Living in Ocean Pines, we offer all levels of senior care, from independent living to memory care. All residents benefit from socializing together and enjoying the experience of living here at our safe and beautiful residences. Come and see for yourself — book a tour online or call us today at (410) 208-1000.