5 Ways to Improve Communication with a Parent Who Has Dementia

5 Ways to Improve Communication with a Parent Who Has Dementia

One of the clearest ways you can show your aging parent that you care about them and value their desires is by making good communication a priority. But when your parent has reached a life stage when communication is more difficult than ever, how can you nurture those important connections? The following communication practices will not only help you help your parent, but bring the two of you closer together as well.

1. Keep It Simple

“Simple” does not necessarily mean “easy.” In fact, after decades of relating to your parent in certain ways, changing your communication style may feel like one of the hardest things you’ve done. But when you keep your instructions clear and to the point, your parent will experience less frustration in trying to figure out your expectations. Don’t engage in lengthy explanations of why your parent should or shouldn’t focus on tasks. Keep your communication to one task—and just a few words—at a time. “Let’s brush our teeth” will go a lot further than “After you eat dinner, make sure you brush your teeth, take a shower, then change into your pajamas so you can go to bed feeling fresh and clean.” 

2. Be Assertive

Unlike passive communication, in which you set your needs and boundaries aside, and aggressive communication, in which you ignore the desires of others in favor of your own, assertive communication strikes a balance. The Family Caregiver Alliance writes, “When you communicate assertively, you express your own needs and desires while respecting the needs and desires of others. Assertive communication allows both parties to engage in a dignified discussion about the issue at hand.” Passive communication can be as ineffective as aggressive communication, because it will eventually erode trust and energy, making it harder for you to help. 

3. Focus on Body Language

Even if your parent seems to miss a number of details in your verbal communication (which is why our first tip is so important), they are most likely “hearing” your body language loud and clear. Deliberate facial expressions and hand gestures can help you express your ideas, while a gentle hand on the shoulder, nod, and eye contact can demonstrate your affection and commitment to listening to their needs. 

4. Be Willing to Negotiate

Like most people, your aging parent wants their way. And dementia can exacerbate the stubbornness that comes with typical human nature, turning simple events into a battle of wills. While focusing on assertive communication can help you acknowledge the needs and desires on both sides, sometimes it’s necessary to “meet in the middle.” For example, if your parent doesn’t want to take a shower, you can negotiate a sponge bath. If they refuse their medicine, you can encourage cooperation with their favorite dessert. Certainly you can’t allow your parent to skimp on hygiene, nutrition, or safety, but compromising in order to achieve those goals can go a long way in making your interactions more pleasant. 

5. Accept the Changes 

Watching your parent struggle with memory issues can be painful. Refusing to accept the reality of their declining abilities can make your pain even worse. Adjust your expectations so that your parents don’t feel like they’ve disappointed you, and you don’t feel like you’ve disappointed them. Educate yourself on the symptoms of dementia so that as your parent changes, you are ready to adjust accordingly. By focusing on making the most of each moment, you will enjoy the precious time you have. 


Do you think your parent will eventually need to move to a place that provides memory care? Learn more here about the holistic memory care that we provide at Danbury, and then schedule a tour at one of our locations across Ohio.

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