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By Joëlle Thiffault on

How to communicate with someone with cognitive impairment

Communicating with a loved one who is cognitively impaired is a journey that is both complex and rewarding, requiring empathy, patience, and adaptability. Neurocognitive disorders affect memory and comprehension, transforming how we share our thoughts and feelings.

This blog will guide you through practical strategies on how to communicate with someone with cognitive impairment, paving the way for stronger and more empathetic relationships.

How do cognitive impairments affect communication?

Effective communication can become challenging when the brain is affected by a cognitive disorder. Individuals with cognitive impairments may struggle to process information, remember recent conversations, understand complex words, follow multi-step instructions like getting dressed, or juggle multiple ideas simultaneously, such as speaking and watching TV simultaneously. This cognitive complexity makes communication more difficult, demanding patience and adaptability from the communicator.

How to communicate with loved ones with neurocognitive disorders?

Communication is the key to a good relationship. Communicating with, understanding, and respecting individuals with cognitive impairments is essential. To facilitate communication and understanding with your loved one, here are some actions to take:

Building trust

Establishing trust with a person with cognitive impairments requires a gentle and familiar approach. Depending on the stage of the disease, challenges may include difficulty absorbing new information and remembering faces, even those of close family members. Thus, it is crucial to help them recognize you and understand their surroundings. A constant and reassuring presence is key to establishing this essential trust, whether it be a family member or a professional caregiver.

Adapting your language

Adapting your language for better comprehension is crucial when communicating with someone with cognitive impairments. Speak slowly and opt for simple words and short sentences, avoiding complex details. Ensure your message is understood by asking for confirmation and, if necessary, rephrase it for clarity.

Choose topics your loved one enjoys discussing, maintaining a positive attitude throughout the conversation. This empathetic and patient approach helps create a more effective and understandable dialogue.

Communiquer avec une personne atteinte de troubles cognitifs

Understanding behaviour's meaning

Understanding the behaviour of a person with cognitive impairments is crucial. They may struggle with concentration and memory, affecting their ability to respond effectively or use language suitable for social or professional contexts. Sometimes, this can lead to irritability or unexpected reactions.

As a family caregiver, it is essential to perceive these behaviours as a means of communication, providing clues about their unspoken emotions or needs. This understanding allows you to anticipate and better respond to their feelings.

Maintaining consistency and routine 

It is crucial to maintain a consistent routine and environment when communicating with a person with dementia or Alzheimer’s disease. This stability helps prevent disorientation and anxiety. Visual supports such as photos or indicators in their living space can contribute to their sense of security by offering familiar landmarks. This approach aims to create a reassuring and predictable framework, reducing confusion and promoting better orientation.

Using visual supports

Visual supports are a particularly effective communication method for individuals with cognitive impairments. Images, pictograms, or simple gestures can transcend the limitations of verbal communication. They serve as clear reference points in a sometimes confusing world and can facilitate understanding of daily instructions and routines.

These visual tools offer an alternative means of connection, overcoming speech barriers and engaging the person more meaningfully and understandably as the disease progresses. Enriching the environment with these visual aids can significantly reduce anxiety and improve the person's quality of life.

Listening with patience and empathy

Active listening, characterized by patience and empathy, is essential in communicating with individuals with cognitive decline. This involves valuing their efforts, even if communication is difficult.

Maintaining eye contact with your loved one and eliminating potential sources of distraction, both for you and them, provides a more conducive communication environment. Taking the time to listen carefully, acknowledge their attempts to communicate, and respond with compassion strengthens the bond and shows that you respect their dignity.

Encourage the person to express themselves and give them time to respond. By showing that you understand and support their struggle, you create a secure and encouraging environment where they feel heard and valued.

Adapting to their reality

Adapting to the reality of a person with cognitive impairments is a respectful and understanding approach. Rather than trying to bring them back to our perception of the world, it is often more beneficial to enter their world. This method creates a deeper connection and reduces their anxiety or confusion. By recognizing and validating their perspective, even if it differs from ours, we facilitate a more harmonious and empathetic interaction, contributing to their emotional and mental well-being.

Communicating with a person with cognitive impairments is a journey of mutual and continuous learning. Each exchange offers the opportunity to strengthen bonds and express love and support, creating a secure and warm space. This compassionate approach enriches the life of the person involved and the caregiver, weaving deep and empathetic relationships.

Permit number : AP-2000480