Making Sense: Increase Communication (Nonverbally) with Seniors with Dementia

If someone you love has Alzheimer’s, then you know that looking after seniors with dementia can be demanding. In fact, it often comes with additional challenges on top of the ones associated with caring for older populations. There are the physical tasks involved in helping someone no longer able to do basic self-care, as well as the emotional cost of coping with behaviors brought on by dementia.
Numerous solutions to these challenges have been proposed over the years, and many work very well. Keeping the older adult in a familiar environment, such as their own home, and using medications to slow the progression of Alzheimer’s[1. “Alzheimer’s: Drugs help manage symptoms,” July 11, 2014,] all have their place. But if your loved one no longer has the language skills they used to, you may also want to try an unconventional approach to make communicating, and providing care, easier.

The Importance of Non-Linguistic Communication

We tend to think of communication only in terms of words. But seniors with dementia may require creative solutions to ensure your message gets through. This is because the part of their brain that handles language may have been damaged or compromised. So instead of simply speaking, try the following:
Touch. Touch is an essential component of mental and physical health, regardless of a person’s age. Simple, loving touches have been shown to reduce stress, anxiety, and feelings of depression. When serving a person with dementia, a simple gesture (such as putting your hand on a person’s shoulder) can be more comforting than words when they are upset. If they appear comfortable with it, you can also try holding their hand, giving them a hug, or rubbing their back.
Sight. People with dementia often have a much easier time understanding things that are shown to them rather than told. This is where communicating visually comes in, if they have adequate vision. Demonstrate how to get your sleeve into your coat, or pick up food with a spoon. Then have the older adult try to copy your movements.
Sound. Sound is another important sense when it comes to communicating messages, but not just in terms of forming words. The sounds around us affect how we feel at any given time. For instance, try not to have noises associated with wakefulness (such as the TV) going on when it’s your loved one’s bedtime. On the other hand, music with a fast tempo can encourage brisk activity, like walking. And white noise from a sound machine can help block out anxious thoughts that interfere with sleep or relaxation.
Taste. The taste of familiar foods and beverages can have a positive impact on a person’s mood, so this is another technique you may want to try with an older adult with dementia. Vanilla is believed to improve people’s overall sense of well-being (which is why it’s one of the most popular flavors of ice cream). Offering something they find comforting may calm agitation, help with depression, and communicate a feeling of peacefulness and calm.
Scent. We don’t often think of scent as a way of communicating, but the truth is, our sense of smell is tightly linked to memories, and to the emotions they stir up. If your loved one is agitated,[2. “Anxiety and agitation,”] a familiar and calming scent (such as their favorite lotion or perfume), may help calm them. When they’re fatigued, the smell of coffee (even if they don’t drink it), or energizing oils like peppermint can help rejuvenate them.

Just One Way to Show Seniors with Dementia that You Care

In addition to seeing a familiar face (like their home care aide) every day, seniors with dementia benefit from the techniques above if applied consistently. And since many dementia-related conditions are progressive, you may find yourself using them more and more. Rather than seeing this as unfortunate, be appreciative that you still have a way to show your loved one you care – without saying a word!
If you are unsure of how to best help an aging loved one, the trained and compassionate staff at the Institute on Aging is here to help you make that decision and gain the best in at-home care for older adults. Contact us to find out more.

Institute on Aging

Institute on Aging

Related Posts


Give our dedicated Client Service Specialists a call. We are ready to help.

Follow Us

Three and a half years ago, Maggie Fang started her journey as an Assessment Specialist in the Support at Home Program at IOA. Her excellent people skills enabled her to manage a caseload of older adults and individuals with disabilities, helping them receive homecare to age in place. Maggie was selected to pioneer the Temporary Respite Caregiver Support program, and we are delighted to have such a skilled and dedicated individual leading our newest program at IOA. Thank you, Maggie, for your exceptional work! 

#SocialWorkMonth #WeAppreciateyou #ThankYou #SupportatHome #CaseManager #SocialWorkerAppreciation
Join us at the Adult Day Program at the Enrichment Center as Caregiver Coach Alex shares with us the incredible support and care provided to participants living with dementia. Clients enjoy various engaging activities, from music therapy to art classes, designed to stimulate their cognitive and physical abilities. The skilled staff at the Enrichment Center also provides caregivers with much-needed support and respite, allowing them to take a break and attend to their needs. If you or someone you know is looking for support in caring for a loved one with dementia, the Adult Day Program at the Enrichment Center in the Presidio is an excellent resource for you! 

Learn more by visiting the link in our bio! 

#DementiaCare #EnrichmentCenter #AdultDayProgram #CaregiverSupport #Presidio #Dementia #Memory #Caregiver
At Insitute on Aging, we are committed to attracting and retaining top talent, and we are incredibly fortunate to have Manuel Martinez on our team. With his extensive expertise in housing and community resources, Manuel has been an invaluable asset to our organization. Recently, he was promoted to the role of Assessment Specialist II in our Adults with Disabilities - Home Delivered Meals program. In addition to managing a caseload, Manuel has demonstrated exceptional leadership skills and has become an expert in program management. We are grateful for Manuel's unwavering commitment to IOA and the community we serve. Thank you, Manuel, for your dedication and passion in making a difference in the lives of others. 
#SocialWorkMonth #IOATeam #TopTalent #CommunitySupport #HomeDeliveredMeals #SupportingAdultsWithDisabilities
In honor of #SocialWorkMonth, we're shining a spotlight on one of our exceptional social workers - Patty Myers! 

Patty has dedicated her career and volunteer efforts to support older adults and adults with disabilities in San Francisco. As the Resident Services Coordinator for Institute on Aging's Support in Independent Living program, Patty wears many hats to ensure that the 120+ residents of Martin Luther Towers Senior Housing can age in place comfortably. Her talent for connecting individuals with resources has enabled her to go above and beyond to ensure accessibility and inclusivity for all. Patty's commitment to her work has been unwavering, and we are grateful to have her on our team at IOA. 

#SeniorCare #SocialWork #SupportingTheElderly #SocialWorker #SocialWork #NationalSocialWorkerMonth #Services #Coordinator #Joinourteam