How to Have a Successful Video Call with a Loved One Who Has Dementia

By Andrea Korsunsky, BSW, Director of Seniors At Home’s Center for Dementia Care

Finding ways to stay connected with people we care about is perhaps one of the most challenging aspects of life during COVID-19. When you have a loved one who has dementia, virtual communication can be especially daunting—but it is also extremely important.

senior with caretaker on video call

While social distancing is important in stopping the spread of COVID-19, people with dementia are at an especially high risk of becoming dangerously isolated. The good news is that there are ways that families and caregivers can prevent social isolation for their loved ones by finding creative ways to keep them engaged and connected.

Video calling has been a social lifesaver for many people during the pandemic, especially for isolated seniors and those most vulnerable. It can also be a viable social alternative for people with memory loss, but it is critical to stage the situation for success.

Below are five helpful tips for making video calls with your loved one enjoyable and successful:

    1. Plan ahead:
      • Set up all of the technology ahead of time to avoid confusion and frustration on both sides. I recommend Facetime and Zoom, as both are very easy to use.
      • If a caregiver will be with your loved one at the time of the call, send instructions ahead of time. Download the appropriate app and do a test call without your loved one to be sure it goes smoothly.
      • Find a time that your loved one is most alert to get the best quality interaction. Morning tends to be the best time for people with dementia, especially if they experience sundowning in the evenings.
      • Introduce yourself to the person with dementia. Even though they may already know who you are, it may be harder for your loved one to recognize you in this new virtual way, so letting them know right away helps to avoid confusion.
    2. Be flexible: 
      • It might not be successful the first time. Don’t be discouraged—simply try again after thinking of ways to improve the call.
      • If your call was unsuccessful, consider calling during a different time of day, in a different room, or with different lighting.
      • Remember that the use of new technology is not for everyone. Be open to signals that the video calls are not a good fit. If the calls create more confusion or agitation after a few attempts, it may not be the right mode of socialization.
    3. Provide support:
      • Guide the conversation and provide added reassurance and support during the virtual call.
      • People with dementia can be unpredictable with their emotions and behaviors, especially when they are tired or in pain. Make sure all parties are clear that if agitation occurs, you will end the call promptly.
      • Use your knowledge of your loved one’s interests or life story to make the interaction joyful and engaging. Favorite songs, poems, anecdotes from the past, or watching their small grandchildren or pets during your video conversation could be the keys to successful communication.
    4. Set realistic expectations:
      • Try not to worry about the length of the call—it’s all about the connection you make during that time. Even a brief video or phone call can make a significant impact in preventing the damaging effects of social isolation for your loved one.
      • Keep conversations light, and focus on social engagement.
    5. Seek Advice:
      Always remember that you have the Seniors At Home team to support you—just ask!

To schedule a dementia care consultation email [email protected] or call 415-449-3712

Seniors At Home is a division of Jewish Family and Children’s Services. Learn more about our Center for Dementia Care >