How to Communicate with Someone with Alzheimer’s

Kathleen Allen, LCSW, C-ASWCM
  • Expert Advice
Published on:
An aged father with his adult son happily walking down a path in a park conversing.

Have you ever tried to communicate with a loved one who has Alzheimer’s disease and ended up feeling awkward and frustrated? Did you feel stuck without having anything to talk about? Was this a once conversant and articulate person you now have difficulty engaging? 

Despite the challenges of communicating with someone who has Alzheimer’s disease, it is achievable. Here are some tips to facilitate the best possible communication.  

During Your Visit 

Christi Clark and Carrie Idol-Richards of the Insight Memory Care Center in Fairfax, Virginia, refer to six basic steps for communicating with someone with dementia. These steps provide an excellent framework to use on your visits with someone with Alzheimer’s or another dementia.  

  • Approach from the front—do not startle them. 

  • Establish eye contact. This shows interest in them. 

  • Call the person by name—again, showing interest in them. 

  • Get down to eye level if needed. This puts you on the same level as them. 

  • Let them initiate touch—they will come to you when ready. 

  • Give directions one step at a time. This helps keep it simple, especially for those having difficulty with processing. 

Guiding the Conversation

One thing is certain—your visits will go better if you are prepared with a plan. Visit at a good time of day for your loved one, keep your stay short, and have a plan for an activity. Go with some ideas for conversation and be prepared to follow their lead if they are especially talkative that day. Here are some specific ideas to help a visit go well: 

Follow Their Lead

If your loved one is particularly talkative that day, pay attention to what they say and meet them where they are. If they are talking about a time they went to the beach, then talk about the beach. In that moment, they are thinking of the beach, and that is where they need you to be as well. Perhaps they are talking about a family member. Follow their lead and contribute to the conversation with your own memory or question. It may not trigger a thought from them, but it might. It is okay if it does not. Just keep in touch with their thoughts and let them show you where they are. If you have photos to share, they can also aid in reminiscing.  

Don’t Correct Them

If your loved one expresses something that is not true, it is best not to correct or argue with them about it. For them, maybe their mother was there this morning, even though you know she passed away 25 years ago. They are only able to see their reality and it is best in these moments to leave the inaccuracy alone, and just accept it as it is. 

Plan an Activity

Ideally, include some activity in your visit. A walk, a trip to the local park, or a gardening activity are some ideas. If there is something you know they enjoy doing, join them in that activity.  

Communicating on the Phone or via Video Chat

Talking on the phone can be difficult. Many of us realize this when we call someone with Alzheimer’s. The calls you once made and were easy can become quiet and one sided. While there is no magic to having a fruitful call with someone with Alzheimer’s, there are ways to enhance the dialogue. Again, it starts with a plan. 

Call at the time of day you know to be best for them. If the phone is not optimal, use video chat. Seeing you may help with recognition. As a backup, be prepared with topics to discuss. Listen well to what they say and join them in their topic. 

Remember, sometimes conversations, whether via phone, video, or in person, might just feel frustrating. If that happens, try again next time. Your skills will likely improve each time. 

About the author

Headshot of Kathleen Allen.

Kathleen Allen, LCSW, C-ASWCM

Kathleen Allen has been working with older adults and their families for over 20 years.

About BrightFocus Foundation   

BrightFocus Foundation is a premier global nonprofit funder of research to defeat Alzheimer’s, macular degeneration, and glaucoma. Through its flagship research programs — Alzheimer’s Disease Research, National Glaucoma Research, and Macular Degeneration Research — the Foundation has awarded nearly $290 million in groundbreaking research funding over the past 50 years and shares the latest research findings, expert information, and resources to empower the millions impacted by these devastating diseases. Learn more at  


The information provided here is a public service of BrightFocus Foundation and should not in any way substitute for personalized advice of a qualified healthcare professional; it is not intended to constitute medical advice. Please consult your physician for personalized medical advice. BrightFocus Foundation does not endorse any medical product, therapy, or resources mentioned or listed in this article. All medications and supplements should only be taken under medical supervision. Also, although we make every effort to keep the medical information on our website updated, we cannot guarantee that the posted information reflects the most up-to-date research.

These articles do not imply an endorsement of BrightFocus by the author or their institution, nor do they imply an endorsement of the institution or author by BrightFocus.    

Some of the content may be adapted from other sources, which will be clearly identified within the article. 

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