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Verbal Communication — When Communicating with Your Loved One is Threatened by Dementia

It can be challenging and unsettling when your loved one begins to have communication issues due to the progression of their dementia. The good thing is it doesn’t have to be that way. There are tools and tips which can be used to help. Before getting to those, let us look at some of the communication challenges your loved one may have. As their dementia progresses, your loved one might:

  • Have difficulty finding the “right” words
  • Make inappropriate comments
  • Become demanding and make unreasonable requests
  • Become frustrated easily
  • Become verbally abusive
  • Might become very sarcastic
  • Have forgetfulness and difficulty with retrieval of learned information

Understanding some of those common changes in communication is a start. From there, we as caregivers must be mindful of our communication style.

To be an effective communicator, we must begin by accepting that the key to effective communication is the ability to listen attentively. As a caregiver, you must use techniques that provide an open nonthreatening environment for your loved one. Your listening behavior can either enhance and encourage communication or shut down communication altogether. Communication is the Second Pillar of Activities and Engagement. The ability to listen effectively is the foundation of that pillar.

There are two types of communication: verbal and nonverbal.

Looking at verbal communication, here are some basic tips for success:

  • Use exact, short, positive phrases. If you have to repeat an instruction, say it the exact way you did the first time. If your message doesn’t get through after two attempts, add in tips from the nonverbal communication section below.
  • Speak slowly, and give your loved one time to answer.
  • Give one instruction at a time.
  • Use a warm, gentle tone of voice, but talk to them as the adult they are.
  • Use words and phrases that your loved one is familiar with.

We know that in the heat of the moment and in stressful situations, it can be hard to remember all of the tips above. If you take one thing from this article, please remember to always remain calm and approach your loved one in a relaxed demeanor. With this open and nonthreatening approach, your loved one will know that you are there to listen. Remember, listening is the foundation of the Second Pillar of Activities and Engagement - Effective Communication.

Being a caregiver for an elderly loved one, can be difficult and overwhelming. It can be even more of a challenge if you are dealing with issues of your own.  However, there are resources to help. Membership in gets you access to a library of caregiving articles by issue, entertainment and activities for you and your loved one to enjoy, product reviews of items to make your lives a little easier, recipes and tips for quick meals and livestream classes.


About the Author

Lisa Ost-Beikman, ADC, CDP, AC-BC, CADDCT is Director of Education for the National Association of Activity Professionals. Scott Silknitter, inventor, author, and speaker, is the founder of R.O.S. Therapy Systems which began as a 2010 project to help his mother and father in a 25-year battle with Parkinson’s disease and dementia.  


About R.O.S Therapy Systems: R.O.S. Therapy Systems began as a backyard project in 2010. Scott Silknitter was searching for tools to help his mother care for his father, Roger Owen Silknitter, during a 25-year fight with Parkinson’s disease and dementia. That project became a personal mission to help all family caregivers. From family caregiver training and activity books to mobile apps to activity systems, R.O.S. has grown to become a single-source provider of informational “how to’s” and a growing provider of adaptive tools for the millions of husbands, wives, children, and family members that become caregivers.

Common sense advice and instruction based on proven principles of communication, engagement, and daily living are the heart of everything R.O.S. offers for family caregivers. Improving quality of life for caregivers is our mission, and designing everything for a family caregiver struggling with a loved one is the starting point. Whether it is dementia, diabetes, Parkinson’s, ALS, stroke, visual impairment, developmental disabilities, or any other issue that forces someone to care for a loved one, R.O.S. and its Caregiving 101 program are here to help.