Finding the Words: Tips for Communicating with a Person Experiencing Memory Loss

Talking to a loved one who’s experiencing memory loss or dementia can be a challenging or frustrating experience. Your loved one might not only have trouble recalling recent events but also could struggle to follow conversations or find the right words to express themselves.

Senior with daughter

The Seniors At Home Center for Dementia Care works with families to teach them best practices for communicating with loved ones who are experiencing dementia. Their most helpful tips:

Choosing your words carefully

  • Before starting a conversation with a person experiencing memory loss, take a few deep breaths to center yourself. Staying calm is key.
  • Present a topic that you know your loved one will find interesting. Listen carefully to what they have to say and try not to interrupt, finish their sentences, or ask too many questions.
  • Use a calm and gentle tone of voice.
  • Treat every statement as true, even if it’s not factually correct. Try to avoid fact-checking, correcting, or contradicting your loved one. This can make them feel confused or frustrated.
  • Do your best to refrain from using the word “remember”, as this may frustrate a person who is already trying to remember as best they can.

Your body language

  • Create a feeling of partnership by sitting next to the person you’re speaking with, rather than across from them.
  • Make frequent eye contact.
  • Stay present and focused on the conversation; avoid multi-tasking, even if it takes the person you’re speaking with a long time to respond.
  • Move slowly or stay still during your conversation. Moving around the room while you’re talking can cause confusion.
  • Smile and do your best to stay positive.

Andrea Korsunsky, Director of the Center for Dementia Care, says that in addition to these strategies, an attitude of patience and understanding can go a long way toward ensuring a successful conversation.

“At the root of every sudden change in mood or behavior, there is an unmet emotional need. Creating a sense of safety and trust will make the person you’re talking to feel safe and comfortable,”  Andrea says.

Andrea explains that people caring for family members with memory loss can often benefit from using these tips and other tools from professionals. “Our caregivers work with individuals at every stage of memory loss. Our approach is to make sure we are meeting the client exactly where they are, validate each client’s need to feel purposeful, and facilitate meaningful interactions through authentic connections,” she says. “We offer practical and empathic support for family members to address the matter at hand.”

For more tips on caring for people experiencing memory loss, check out our Caregiver Resource Library—a series of guides written by our experts to support you in caring for your loved one.