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3 Ways to Talk to Dementia


In Alzheimer’s, talking to a loved one can be very frustrating. Here are 3 tips that can help.

For someone with Alzheimer’s disease, another dementia or memory loss, simply communicating with loved ones can be a challenge. For family members of people with Alzheimer’s and related dementia, these speech and communication issues can be very frustrating. 

The best way to deal with these issues is to try to put ourselves in their shoes to see what we can do to improve communication with someone who has Alzheimer’s or a related dementia.

  1. Make sure you have their attention. 

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    You can reduce the frustration and confusion by simply ensuring that you have their attention before communicating with them. Making eye contact with a person with Alzheimer’s disease or another dementia is a critical first step to begin communication with them.

    Don’t assume that just because you’re in front of someone with Alzheimer’s disease or a related dementia that they are paying attention to you. Alzheimer’s robs people of their peripheral vision, so if you are even standing just a little bit off to someone’s side, they might not see you. 

  2. Another challenge for people living with Alzheimer’s disease is difficulty concentrating, so to be sure that the person you are trying to communicate with is paying attention to you. An easy way to address them by name and wait for them to respond before continuing your communication.

    Use simple sentences and slow down.

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    Once you’ve established a connection and have a person with Alzheimer’s disease or another dementia’s attention, the worst thing you can do is try to communicate too much, too quickly. 

    For example: Instead of asking – “We’d like to take you out to dinner. Would you like to go for steak, seafood, pizza or a buffet?” – it would be much better to break those questions into separate parts. In that scenario, you just threw too much at a person with Alzheimer’s or dementia. There is the question of whether they want to go out to dinner; then you have offered three choices. This makes communication very difficult for someone with Alzheimer’s disease.

    Since they are two separate decisions, first see if they are up for going out to dinner, and then determine where they go. 

    While it may seem loving, caring and considerate to offer flexibility and choices, a person with Alzheimer’s disease, another dementia or memory loss can easily feel overwhelmed by too many options. It’s usually better to just offer two choices or your communication will be hindered. If you don’t understand the speech and communication challenges facing a person with Alzheimer’s disease, other dementias or memory loss, it is easy to become frustrated as well.

  3. Finally, don’t put anyone on the spot. 

    All too often, well-meaning relatives and friends unwittingly create anxiety for their loved ones with Alzheimer’s by asking things like “you remember John, don’t you?” or “what did you have for breakfast?” 

    To someone with dementia, this can feel like a pop quiz that they do not know the answers to. What if they don’t remember John or what they had for breakfast? You could be setting them up to feel embarrassed or ashamed. 

    Alzheimer’s disease and other forms of dementia do not make people forget how to feel these emotions, so while these are well-meaning questions, it would be much better to simply phrase them a little differently. Saying “Hey mom, John from our old neighborhood is here to see you,” or “How was breakfast today?” is much less likely to create anxiety or confusion, which significantly increases the likelihood of a positive experience for the person with dementia.

Again, a person with Alzheimer’s disease, another dementia or memory loss will be frustrated if they are forced to keep dealing with all that they cannot remember and the difficulty they have with speech. The frustrations with speech and communication, unfortunately, are a common struggle for people with Alzheimer’s and other dementias, and can be exacerbated by loved ones who don’t appreciate the speech and communication challenges that someone with dementia faces.

There is a lot to know about Alzheimer’s disease and dementia, specifically about speech and communication.

  • You can get more information about communicating with people living with dementia by calling the Alzheimer’s Association. They have a nationwide, 24/7 Helpline at 800.272.3900 for help with speech and communication issues, whether the diagnosis is Alzheimer’s or another dementia.They are available day and night with information, emotional support, caregiving tools and referrals to healthcare, financial and legal resources with translation services available in more than 200 languages.
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December 30, 2019 12:04 pm

Is it EVER ok to raise your voice, yell or scream at an Alzheimer’s/Dementia patient?

Reply to  kberry
December 30, 2019 12:57 pm

NO… ABSOLUTELY NOT! It makes them feel even more anxious and confused than they already are. It just escalates the situation. You MUST get a grip and practice self restraint no matter what the circumstances. ALWAYS speak and act very calmly around the patient… use a reassuring tone. They need to feel safe and loved and cared for above everything else. They have no choice in their circumstances… they are scared and frustrated. This is a horrible experience they are going through. Avoid extremes in your behavior at all costs. Seek help wherever and whenever you need to. If you blow it and make a mistake with communication… apologize, express love and kindness and move forward. Work to avoid a repeat. It's challenging to be a Caregiver to say the least, however, it's more challenging to lose everything you are familiar with and experiencing your body functioning literally breaking down over time. Compassion and Understanding are paramount in caring for the dementia patient.

Reply to  kberry
December 30, 2019 1:25 pm

Thank you! You took the words right out of my mouth. I posed the question because I have a family member caring for my grandmother who was caught and confronted for yelling and grabbing on my grandmother. She became really defensive and is trying to justify her behavior by saying another family member who is an RN state’s that sometimes you have to yell at the dementia patient to snap them out of their episodes. I tried explaining to my family that is absolutely FALSE and under no circumstances do you ever yell at them!!! Thanks again

B. Berger

B. Berger

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This site was inspired by my Mom’s autoimmune dementia.

It is a place where we separate out the wheat from the chaffe, the important articles & videos from each week’s river of news. With a new post on Alzheimer’s or dementia appearing on the internet every 7 minutes, the site’s focus on the best information has been a help to many over the past 15 years. Thanks to our many subscribers for your supportive feedback.

The site is dedicated to all those preserving the dignity of the community of people living with dementia.

Peter Berger, Editor


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