Day 8: Dementia Awareness Month Communicating with people with dementia

Naomi Feil, founder of Validation Therapy, shares a breakthrough moment of communication with Gladys Wilson, a woman who was diagnosed with Alzheimer’s in 2000 and is virtually non-verbal. Learn more at

Catherine Bateman wrote this on September 4, as a hot topic on the NSW Department of health e-leaning site. She said:

“How we communicate with the person with dementia and how we interpret their way of expression is central to understanding the experience of the person with dementia.

I am reminded each day of the reality that communication is much more than words. In facts words account for only 7% of communication, tone 38% and body language 55% (Albert 1971). In interactions with and between persons with more advanced dementia, words can be seen more as an accompaniment or adornment rather than the main vehicle for communication (Kitwood, 1997).

When the person with dementia is unable to clearly express themselves in words, trying to understand and interpret what their tone and body language is telling us as well as being aware of the impact of our tone and body language can greatly support communication. For example, a person with more advanced dementia is unable to express their pain in words but can through their facial expression and body language. The ability to observe for these nonverbal signs is essential in the appropriate assessment and management of pain.

The more severe the dementia, the greater the need for special interactive competencies that support connection with and understanding of the person. These often involve gentle touch, music and validation therapy. The YouTube video by Naomi Feil, movingly demonstrates her interactive competencies with Galdy’s a resident who is nonverbal with advanced dementia.

From my personal and clinical experience, communication and how we interact with the person with cognitive impairment and their family carers is the most important aspect of care. Kitwood (1997), sees ‘positive person –work’ in dementia care being essentially that of interaction, according to the persons individual needs, abilities and personalities. This takes awareness, understanding and empathy on the part of the care giver and requires the gaining of information about person, their background and personal preferences. This can be done through the use of a personal or social profile. There are many great programs and resources that have been developed to assist care givers in communicating with the person with dementia at different stages of the disease progress.”


4 thoughts on “Day 8: Dementia Awareness Month Communicating with people with dementia

  1. Hello Richard, you couldn’t have said it any better. I have worked with seniors with advanced dementia, and looking back at this video, it’s amazing how a little patience, gentle touch, and calm voice can miraculously cause such a breakthrough. I often encourage frustrated acquaintances who are caregivers to family members with advanced dementia to take a moment to reflect back on who their loved ones were and have now become. It works every time as they realize that it’s not their loved ones fault, and going the extra mile to patiently tap into their long-term memory and being there for them is truly rewarding.

  2. Hello, fourteen years ago this “breakthrough moment was recorded and went viral. From time to time it goes viral again. But, with what effect? And what effect on who? Again, this should not be news – that people, human beings, whole people living with the symptoms of advanced dementia are still ALL THERE. They just can’t act like it, or at least act like it in a way others act like it. They don’t talk? They don’t respond? Yet they have their own non-verbal languages, it is others who are not listening, who have not taken the time to learn the new languages. Now fourteen years later, and we still aren’t requiring professionals, semi professionals, unlicensed caregivers to learn the languages of non verbal communication.

    Why? After all, it is still surprising news when we discover some one, some ones, some moment when someone acts like they are all there – when in effect we are always all there – it’s just our there still is not, and unfortunately for all of us can never be your all-there. Who in the better place to learn the other person’s new “all there?:

    Please, please learn it, try it, practice it, BELIEVE IN IT and in US! Richard

    • Hello Ricahrd… I totally agree with you, but we need to keep sauying it, because people are not listening, let alone changing yet, well not enough anyway. Dead weight Pete always reminds me to remember how long Ghandi or Mandela took for real change, and perhaps ‘enough’ change for them was not there when they died. we must all soldier on..

The only thing missing in this global conversation is YOUR voice... Thank you.

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