Non-Verbal Communication for Dementia Patients

Challenges of Verbal Communication

In the later stages of dementia or Alzheimer’s, elderly persons may face challenges understanding what is being said to them. While some seniors may repeat the same words or talk in great volume, often their ability to communicate verbally drastically diminishes. However, just because someone is unable to communicate through spoken word does not mean they cannot communicate in other ways. Non-verbal communication, then, is an important skill for loved ones and caregivers to understand and utilize when trying to connect to aging seniors.

Non-Verbal Communication Can Be Made Through…

Communication Non-verbally occurs anytime two people are in the same room. Though we probably do not think about it, we communicate a lot about our attitude through what we do with our hands, the way we stand, and the volume or tone of our voice. Some examples of non-verbal communication include:

Facial Expressions

A lot of people don’t realize the importance of smiling when it comes to interacting with seniors. A smile goes a long way in reassuring our elders and putting them at ease. In general, a genuine smile is a simple way to express love and care.

Body Movement

The way a person carries themselves says a bit about their attitude and general frame of mind. You can sometimes determine how comfortable a person is in a situation depending on how they stand and fill up space.


Hand movements (waving, pointing, etc.) sometimes say a lot about a person’s mood or their natural personality, whether they are an excitable person or more reserved.

Eye Contact

The amount of eye contact between individuals can determine a person’s engagement in the conversation. Giving plenty of eye contact to the person you are speaking with demonstrates a level of care and interest in that person.


Handshakes, shoulder taps, hugs, and pats on the back are all ways to communicate with another person. Touch can be comforting when done in love while very unwelcoming coming from a stranger.

The Struggles of Losing the Ability to Communicate Verbally

Understanding these other modes of communication is helpful whenever we are interacting with another person, but especially a senior. It is important that family and caregivers understand how important communication is for the elderly. As we age, we usually become more vulnerable and less confident about making decisions for ourselves and others. With an increased sense of vulnerability, many seniors rely on those younger to assist them with daily tasks and needs. However, without the ability to talk, seniors may feel extremely isolated from relatives and friends. Inability to communicate wants or needs or even express pain or discomfort can also be quite frightening.  This is important for us to remember, especially if the senior in question displays rapid mood swings. Anyone would get angry or depressed after losing one of the most vital human modes of communication!

It is important, then, that we not only understand how we communicate but practice non-verbal communication with our loved ones.

The Importance of Touch:

Touch is the first sense to develop in the womb and the last to go as we die. It is one of the most fundamental aspects of our humanness, and it remains for a lifetime. As a result, the need for human touch may be accentuated as our other senses decline. Sadly, many seniors experience touch deprivation due to neglect or ignorance on the part of family and nurses. To learn more, click here.

The sense of touch carries great healing powers, did you know? One study involving 68 nursing home residents with dementia demonstrated this fact. Those who received hand massages for 10 minutes showed significantly reduced agitation compared to those who received no touch-related care.

Ways to Provide Touch:

-hand lotion massage

-hair combing or brushing


-licensed massage therapy

-handshakes and high fives

-arm pat

Word of Caution:

Do remember that while most people enjoy a warm or caring touch from a loved one, not everyone appreciates the touchy-feelies. Some seniors may even fluctuate between appreciating touch and suddenly desiring space. Do not be offended if your gesture is not received. Above all, do not push a loved one or client if they are showing signs of distress or unease. When in doubt, always communicate your intentions before reaching out to touch a patient.

The Importance of Hearing:

Strange though it may seem at first, some elders appreciate listening to your day even if they can’t respond in turn. Having a one-sided conversation may feel like you are talking at a person, but the connection can still be helpful to them. Unsure what to talk about? If the senior in question is family, talk about relatives and the goings-on in their lives. If the senior is a friend or a client, talk about random events in your life; most people (young and old) appreciate a good story, and telling about your day is a good way to entertain someone.

For more tips on how to do non-verbal communication well with an aging loved one or client, click here.

And for more information on senior life tips, visit today!

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