How Communication Can Change in Later Stage Dementia

Written by Active Minds on Thursday the 14th of November 2019.


Those living with dementia can often experience difficulties in communicating as they progress along their dementia journey. This is because dementia can affect the part of the brain that controls language. Communication and language difficulties can differ depending on the individual and the type of dementia they are living with. Generally, communication difficulties will be more prominent as the dementia journey reaches the later stages.

As a person progresses on their dementia journey and reaches the later stages, communication becomes increasingly difficult; there may eventually come a time when your loved one can no longer communicate through language. Whilst this can be a distressing time, there are ways to support communication and your loved one’s ability to express themselves.

How Communication Can Change

Communication can change throughout a person’s dementia journey, and when this happens will generally be down to the individual but some changes to expect include things such as difficulty in finding the right words; instead a similar word may be used. Similarly, they may use speech which does not flow or make sense and may not be able to understand what others are saying.

As their ability to verbally communicate decreases, their writing and reading skills will likely decrease also. As they progress on their journey, they will eventually lose the ability to hold up the social conventions of conversation, instead interrupting or ignoring people. In turn, there can also be difficulty expressing emotions appropriately.

Ways to Support Communication

When we discuss communication, we’re generally referring to communication through language as well as emotional expression. Therefore, there are ways to encourage different forms of communication in those living with dementia.

When trying to start a spoken conversation there are a few things you can do to encourage communication. Start by ensuring you’re in a quiet, calm space and your loved one can see you clearly. When you’re speaking, start simple and don’t ask too many questions; instead be more conversational and make sure not to patronise them. Make sure you listen to them when they speak, even if you don’t necessarily understand, as they could be trying to communicate something with you so it is important to listen for clues as to what they may be trying to say. If they are confused or say things which are not true, try to steer them away from the topic or work out why this may be the case; don’t contradict them directly.

There are ways to communicate which don’t involve verbal communication; as the dementia journey progresses into the later stages, verbal communication will be hard to come by, so it is a good idea to have an understanding of non-verbal communication. Body language is a good way of communicating during the later stages of dementia; your loved one may try to tell you things through their body language such as whether they are happy or worried or how comfortable they are. Similarly, your loved one may be aware of your body language so be careful not to appear tense or upset as this could cause distress.

When it comes to your body language, there are a few things to keep in mind; make sure your body language and expression match your words as this makes communication easier. Remember not to take an intimidating stance; don’t stand too close or stand over someone to communicate instead be at their eye level. Remember that physical contact can serve as another communication tool and can be reassuring in times of distress when appropriate.