Creating Compassionate Communication With Adults With Memory Impairment
June 27, 2024

Memory impairment may be the most significant symptom of dementia. For those of us who are caregivers to loved ones with this disease, many of the conversations and situations that arise based on a loss in memory can perhaps be some of the most difficult to navigate. As humans, it has been wired into our response system to correct what seems wrong to us. This creates a special kind of challenge for caregivers who want to engage in honest interactions while also restricting any potential for agitating or further confusing their loved ones with dementia. So what are we to do? Here are Oakwood Creative Care’s suggestions for sustaining compassionate communication with adults who experience memory impairment.

1st Step To Compassionate Communication: Stop Correcting Them

creating compassionate communication with adults with memory impairments

Questioning what happened 10-15 minutes ago as if it never happened at all or insisting they don’t want something they just asked for are common behavioral patterns that older adults with memory impairments experience daily. For some caregivers, this endless cycle might feel exasperating—and that’s understandable! However, the best approach to breaking these patterns head-on is simple: just don’t. 

There’s no point in trying to correct a loved one’s thought process when it has already been hindered by memory impairment (and will continue to be from here on out). In all honesty, doing so could only frustrate them further, and what good does it to do constantly remind them of their disability?

Compassion Starts With A Changed Perspective

Instead, communication between caregivers and their loved ones can be made much simpler and, therefore, far more compassionate if we simply change our mindset to fit into their reality.

Contented Dementia Trust has this to say on the matter: 

“Listen to the questions the person with dementia is asking, and consider very carefully what the best answer might be from their perspective rather than your own. 

For people with dementia, feelings are more important than facts.  It is crucial that the information they receive generates good feelings for them.

  • Having a record of good feelings, yet not knowing why, is one thing.
  • Having a record of negative, possibly traumatic feelings with no explanation as to why is quite another.

We owe it to the person with dementia to avoid leaving them with anxieties that they cannot, only moments later, explain.”

Caregivers, Consider Stepping Into Their Reality

creating compassionate communication with adults with memory impairments

Sometimes, the reality of the person living with dementia doesn’t always correlate with what is actually happening in the now. For example, it might be easier for their minds to connect to events from their past, but they might not be able to recognize or remember something that happened very recently. 

This can lead to some emotional distress, especially when caregivers are met with questions about relatives, friends, or pets who either were just present or passed away a long time ago. Instead of reminding our loved ones with memory impairments of the facts — because doing so could lead to them feeling further confused, and we must be mindful that this is their reality we are being met with — often, the best solution is to improvise and redirect the conversation simply.

Compassionate Communication Is What YOU Make It!

One key takeaway here would be to focus on the feelings of persons living with dementia and their varying degrees of memory impairment. Communication requires us to listen. The Alzheimer’s Society recommends to caregivers that, when their loved one is upset, they let them express their feelings and allow the time and space they need to do so. If their worries seem unwarranted, it’s best not to dismiss them. Again, we want to meet them at their level, which means validating how they feel and showing you care about their feelings by just listening to them. When the time is right, acknowledge their feelings by letting them know you hear them, then help them to move forward by offering a distraction. 

Here is an example scenario offered by Alzheimer’s San Diego:

Your loved one says: “Joe hasn’t called for a long time. I hope he’s okay.”

Don’t respond with an argument or prompt them to remember: “Joe called yesterday, and you talked with him for 15 minutes.”

Do respond with reassurance and distraction: “You really like talking with him, don’t you? Let’s call him when we get back from our walk.”

By the time you come back from your walk, your loved one’s distress over Joe’s absence will likely have passed. And the best part? You will have helped to diffuse their stress by acknowledging their concern, validating their feelings, and moving them into a productive situation (walking) to turn their mind onto something different!

Did You Know?

Oakwood Creative Care is bringing back the JOY in aging! We believe a diagnosis should not have to define your life. Instead, we have devoted our mission to reigniting hope for caregivers and older adults with Alzheimer’s, dementia, and other age-related challenges. Click the button below to learn more about how we do this through our research-based, cutting-edge, creative care model found at each of our Day Clubs.

Learn more, contact us, and get started with the Guide Program today, at:

creating compassionate communication with adults with memory impairments

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We're a nonprofit organization based in Mesa, Arizona with three senior day club locations (and a fourth on the way) which serve older adults with Alzheimer's, dementia, Parkinson's, and various other physical or cognitive challenges. Life does not end with a diagnosis. Our members continue to learn new skills, enjoy new discoveries, make friends, laugh, and live a joy-filled life. Our team of dementia experts lead support groups, events, classes, and private sessions with caregivers and families, guiding them on the best methods to care for their loved ones while also caring for themselves.


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