Breaking the Barriers: Enhancing Communication with Seniors Facing Cognitive Decline

Recently updated on February 12th, 2024 at 07:48 am

Dementia is a cumulative illness that, over time, will cause a Cognitive Decline. Meaning the ability to remember, understand, and communicate will be compromised.

As time goes on, the illness progresses, and the patient will slowly lose effective communication skills. Causing their ability to process information to become weaker and their responses delayed.

You’ll have to start discussions to get the person to make a conversation. This is common. Below are some methods that can help.

Communication strategies

Communication strategiesMany patients go through different stages of distress, anxiety, and possibly depression. Talking is a helpful way to handle these symptoms.

Start conversations with the person you’re looking after with empathy and understanding.

Remember, their age and health cause language impairment. Giving more attention to your conversations with them will help.

1) Prepare to communicate with a person with a cognitive decline

Plan enough time to spend with them. If you feel stressed, then take some time to calm down beforehand.

Think about how it would feel if you struggled to communicate, and try to remember what piqued their interests before the illness developed.

Recall previous conversations you had with them and what helped you to communicate well then. Use those to get ideas for things to talk about.

If it’s dementia causing them to start speaking in their first language, and you don’t speak it, then don’t worry. You can ask family members to translate for you. Or use a translation app.

2) Speak Clearly and Slowly, Using Short Sentences

Speak Clearly and Slowly,Talk in a deeper tone and slow down your speech, increase your volume, and use short sentences. It can be helpful with dementia patients, especially if your loved one has trouble hearing.

Take your time with the conversation. Use simple, short sentences. Simplifying information and speaking in a manner that is easily understood is the best way to communicate with your elderly loved ones.

Be careful not to patronize them. Many people make this mistake because they speak similarly to children.

There’s a fine line between speaking with clarity and speaking like you’re speaking to a child. Patients with cognitive decline are primarily elderly and definitely won’t like it. It’ll give your already ill loved one more discomfort.

Slower and deeper speech is easier for dementia patients to understand. However, sometimes people speak in a higher-pitched voice when talking to them, making it more difficult for them to hear the words.

3) Ask Questions

Ask QuestionsAsking the elderly questions is one of the most valuable ways to connect with them. They’re also a great way to start and maintain a conversation.

You can ask your elderly relatives reminiscence questions to learn more about their life experiences.

Many seniors love to share life stories, and asking questions shows your loved one that you’re interested to hear what they have to say.

Asking questions gives patients opportunities to make choices for themselves.

Even if they’re facing physical health issues or cognitive decline, don’t make assumptions about what your loved one wants or needs. Give them opportunities to make decisions for themselves.

It’s essential that seniors are given levels of autonomy and independence. For example, instead of deciding what your loved ones are going to eat, ask them what they want.

If your loved one has trouble making a decision, then help them by providing a few choices. Regardless of anything, everyone wants to feel heard.

Non-Verbal Communication

Non-Verbal CommunicationCommunication includes more than talking. Movements, gestures, and facial expressions can all convey a person’s thoughts and help you get a message across.

Sometimes, it takes time for elders to fully grasp what we’re saying and whether we’re safe to talk to.

When conversing with elders, it’s important to show patience and compassion. After all, living with an illness is tasking.

Body language and physical contact are significant when speech is difficult for a person with dementia. Try using the following methods to communicate.

1) Use a positive tone

positive toneWhen speaking with others, your tone will convey meaning. A word like ‘Hi,’ can be taken in many different ways; all depending on the tone used to say it.

Even if our seniors can’t understand what we’re saying, the tone of voice may still reach them.

Keep your tone positive and friendly when possible. Speak to them at a distance to avoid intimidating them.

Positive tones can turn even negative feelings into positive ones and will help you build a better connection with them.

Speak to them in a tone that is neither too soft nor too loud. Focus on hints from your seniors, like facial expressions, to ensure your voice’s frequency isn’t causing them discomfort.

2) Listening and understanding

Listening and understandingListening is an important trait in any conversation. Even more important for patients with cognitive decline.

Active listening can improve communication between you and the person you’re caring for.

Use these subtle signs to show you’re listening.

● Use eye contact.

It shows interest and attentiveness to what is being said. Eye contact also encourages them to look at you when you’re talking to them.

Maintaining eye contact is essential when conversing, but be sure you aren’t scaring them.

● Don’t interrupt

Interrupting shows the other person that you aren’t interested in what they’re saying.

Even if you think you know what they’re going to say, cutting in may seem disrespectful to them. Especially after they put effort into finding the right words to say.

● Minimise Distraction

Seniors are more sensitive to sound than younger people. So, background noises may be distracting and make conversing difficult.

Minimise distractions that can get in the way of communication, such as tv or radio. But always make sure you have permission to do so.

Additionally, giving them your full attention without distractions like in-between phone calls will make them feel acknowledged and help them enjoy talking to you even more.

3) Patience

The patients are going through one of the hardest times in their lives. Their cognitive decline and memory loss make conversing difficult. So, try to have patience.

Don’t rush them. Conversations with them will be at a different pace than what you’re used to. But there will be chatting.

It takes time for them to process information. Moving the conversation at your pace may confuse and discourage them from further conversing with you.

Keep the conversation focused on one topic at a time, and avoid asking multiple questions simultaneously.

They may mispronounce words or misremember how events happened. This is normal. Don’t make a big deal out of it, and keep the conversation going.

There will be moments of silence. Let them take those short bits to figure out what they want to say to you.

Similarities and Correlation Between Dementia and Alzheimer’s Disease

Alzheimer's DiseaseDementia

Dementia is categorized as a severe decline in mental ability. It’s a term used to describe symptoms like decline in memory, reasoning, feelings, cognitive abilities, and other thinking capabilities.

The ailment is more widespread among seniors. However, it’s not a normal part of aging. But it is caused by damaged brain cells.

Alzheimer’s Disease

Alzheimer’s is caused by brain cell damage and is the most common cause of dementia.

The disease is caused by brain cell damage. Alzheimer’s disease leads to dementia-like symptoms that eventually worsen as time progresses.

Although aging is a risk factor for Alzheimer’s, it doesn’t make the disease a normal part of growing old.

As the illness progresses, symptoms get worse. Long-term Alzheimer’s can cause behaviour changes, disorientation, and struggle to speak, swallow, and walk.

Why Choose Professional Help for Patients with Cognitive Decline?

Both dementia and Alzheimer’s disease are severe conditions for anyone to go through.

Looking after people with dementia requires care, insight, and knowledge. While also having time and resources to provide the stimulation they need to remain as happy, engaged, and independent as possible.

Not everyone has the time, knowledge, and resources to provide the care their ailing elderly need. And that’s ok. There are several in-home Specialized Care For Seniors.

Many home care providers offer dementia and Alzheimer’s care, as well as personal care for seniors. That way, your loved ones will have opportunities to make new connections and have more people to share their time with.

Aside from more socializing, home care also provide all other necessities to keep your loved ones happy and healthy. That includes food, checkups, Medication Management, and Assistance with Daily Living.

Additionally, your loved ones will get 24/7 supervision from people specialized in nursing the elderly. They will also receive expert advice on how best to care for them.


Communication is an essential part of maintaining a healthy lifestyle. When conversing with patients who are going through a cognitive decline, you need to incorporate patience, empathy, and understanding.

People with dementia have barriers that make holding a conversation challenging. But that’s ok. Do your best to be there for them. Listen, talk, and simply avoid topics that may cause them distress.

Your efforts to be there for them emotionally are enough to comfort those who need it.

Tanner Gish

Tanner Gish (Certified Dementia Practitioner, CDP®) is president of Loving Homecare, chapter leader of the Foundation for Senior Services, and community educator on topics relating to home care, aging, dementia, and the relationship between adult children and their aging parents. He is also a Gallup certified Strengths Coach, and he loves empowering the Loving Homecare care team to overcome challenges and to build deeper relationships through Strengths-based coaching. He has his master’s degree in New Testament Theology and bachelor’s degree in International Business from Biola University. Tanner and his wife live in Historic Uptown Whittier, California where both love serving their community, escaping to Northern California to visit their families, and traveling to visit friends living and working overseas as much as possible.

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