How to Connect with a Family Member with Alzheimer’s or Dementia

Having a parent or grandparent with Alzheimer’s disease or dementia is especially difficult in part because it can feel as though the person is already gone while he or she is still there. Many people are not prepared for these dramatic changes and don’t know how to maintain the connection they both still need. Assisted living communities with specialized memory care centers can give comfort and support to families by providing seniors with a safe and caring environment, but they cannot replace that personal relationship. These tips can help with navigating those changes and continuing to have a meaningful relationship.

Tips for Communicating with a Person with Dementia

Set a positive mood.

Approaching your visit with the right attitude can make all the difference. A positive attitude impacts your body language and communicates as much or more than your actual words. Use facial expressions and a tone of voice that convey affection and your desire to be there. Speak in a pleasant and respectful manner.

Limit distractions and noise.

Come prepared to give your full attention to the visit. Choose a time and place without a lot of distractions so you can more easily focus on each other. This makes it easier for your loved one to use his or her mental energy for the conversation.

Use simple words and sentences.

Someone with dementia will have an easier time maintaining a conversation that is logical and doesn’t veer off in multiple directions. Short simple sentences will help with comprehension and make it easier for your loved one to respond. Use a natural clear, calm, warm voice and refrain from condescending “babytalk.”

Ask simple, yes or no questions.

Simple yes or no questions will be easier for a person with dementia to answer than open-ended questions or questions with two many choices. Visual cues can also be helpful when asking the person to choose between options.

Be patient and listen actively.

Patience is key when speaking with someone who needs extra time to process information. Listen attentively, even during the silences, and allow your loved one the time needed to process the question and the answer. Politely ask for clarification if you don’t understand something he or she has said.

Refer to the person by his or her name.

Use the person’s name and also refer to yourself with your name. In referring to others, use the names of people rather than just saying “he” or “she.” This makes it easier for the person to follow the conversation and stay engaged.

Distract and redirect.

While making the effort to minimize your own frustration, understand that your loved one may express frustration. If he or she becomes upset or agitated, kindly acknowledge the feelings behind the behavior. “I see you are upset and I’m sorry.”  Then, try changing the subject of the conversation or moving to a new location. Suggest going for a walk or finding an activity you can do together.

Respond with affection and reassurance.

People with dementia often feel confused and anxious. They may recall things that never happened or confuse actual memories. At these times, reassurance can help. Avoid confrontation or trying to convince them that they are mistaken. Focus on the feelings they are having and respond with expressions of comfort and support. A physical connection, like holding hands or hugging, can help as well.

Remember the past.

Dementia often affects short-term memory but not memories from the distant past. Ask your loved one about early memories rather than about something that just happened. This may inspire him or her to share stories you haven’t heard before, or spark new conversations around shared memories.

Use humor whenever possible.

Sadness and disappointment can easily taint the relationship you once had with this person, but humor can be the best medicine. Laughing together can put you both at ease and help your loved one use the social skills they likely still have. It is also a great way to relieve any tension and frustration in what may be a difficult circumstance.

Understand there will be good days and bad days.

As with many other illnesses, people with dementia or Alzheimer’s disease have ups and downs. While dementia patients most often continue to decline, they do still have good days.

Are you looking for an assisted living facility for yourself or a loved one? Colavria currently manages four senior living communities throughout the Denver Metro Area in Wheat Ridge, Denver, Arvada and Lakewood. Contact one (or more) of our communities to learn more and schedule a tour.

Recent Articles


Sign up to Receive Colavria Hospitality's Articles on Senior Care, Community Management, and More.

Find a Community

Request a Consultation

Careers at Colavria Hospitality