June 30, 2017

Communication Tips: Early Stage Dementia

Recently I attended the Alzheimer’s Association’s Continuum of Care Conference XI in Northern California. There were many helpful experts on hand to give tips and updates related to best practice dementia care, but my favorite was a segment on “Effective Communication Strategies” by the Alzheimer’s Association’s Chief Program Officer, Claire Day. Since the approach recommendations vary as the disease progresses, this information has been broken up into three separate blog posts: early, middle and late stage dementia communication strategies.


In the early stage of Alzheimer’s disease, an individual is still able to participate in meaningful conversation and engage in social activities. However, he or she may repeat stories, withdraw from conversations or have difficulty finding the right word.

Tips for successful communication:

• Don’t make assumptions about a person’s ability to communicate because of an Alzheimer’s diagnosis. The disease affects each person differently.

• Don’t exclude the person with the disease from conversations with others or speak about them as if they’re not in the room.

• Speak directly to the person if you want to know how he or she is doing.

• Take time to listen to how the person is feeling, what he or she is thinking or may need.

• Give the person time to respond. Don’t interrupt or finish sentences unless he or she asks for help finding a word or finishing a sentence.

• Talk with the person about what he or she is still comfortable doing and what they may need help with. 

Even though someone in the early stage of dementia is experiencing changes in their ability to communicate, remember that we as human beings always want to connect. Our goal as dementia care providers is to meet the person where they are so that we can honor what they’re trying to express and make them feel as comfortable and confident as possible.

This blog post is Part 1 of a 3-part series on effective communication strategies.