Caring for a loved one with dementia 1


In this Caring for a Loved One with Dementia series, we talk about the challenges of caring for someone with dementia. Here we offer advice on improving communication. Based on information from the free online course Dementia Care from Future Learn.

46 million people worldwide are living with dementia. Dementia affects not just those living with it, but the lives of those around them, such as carers and family.

There are many types of dementia. Generally, these lead to impaired cognitive skills which affect thinking, making decisions and communication. There can also be physical problems associated with dementia.

This can lead to difficulties in making decisions, such as deciding on a care home.

How do we communicate?

Dementia can lead to problems with verbal communication. This is when it’s important to use non-verbal communication.

  • Conversation ability – speaking and listening skills. Picking up clues on meaning, indicate with your whole body you are paying attention.
  • Checking understanding of a person’s history, what they have communicated and what their behaviour might tell you.
  • Make a positive comment to indicate understanding and boost their self-esteem.
  • As the dementia progresses you may need to adapt your communication channels.

Body language

As dementia progresses, carers may notice differences in:

  • Eye contact
  • Eye movement/gaze
  • Facial expressions
  • Touch
  • Gestures with hands
  • Body posture
  • Use of voice (tone, intonation, volume)
  • Dress
  • Bodily adornment

Using the senses can initiate conversation, for example, making physical contact to indicate that you are going to speak.

Improving communication

  • Maximising familiarity helps to reduce anxiety. For example, leaving the décor the same at home
  • Making adequate space for interaction, such as adequate/appropriate lighting and ample space to face the person you are speaking to
  • Reducing distractions, such as ensuring there is a quiet space and turning off any background noise