13 Do’s and Don’ts for Compassionate Communication with a Memory-Impaired Client

Compassionate Communication is Key with a Memory-Impaired Client

Senior downsizing or home-organizing professionals who have worked with memory-impaired individuals during transition know how difficult it is for their clients to cope with a quickly changing environment.

How you communicate with them is critical to a successful process. In today’s article, I share the 13 communication dos and don’ts that can help you better support your client and make their experience less traumatizing.

After all, experiencing a downsizing move, or other transition, can be a tall order for anyone at any age. Memory-impaired individuals have the added challenge of being unable to fully process what’s going on around them.

Common Roadblocks – Anxiety and Fear

The Alzheimer’s Association (AA) states that an individual who is memory impaired is in a state of constant anxiety and fear. Change only exacerbates this, creating serious roadblocks for both the client and the professional trying to assist them.

“Anxiety compels them to resist changes in routine, even pleasant ones. Your goal is to reduce anxiety whenever possible”, the Association suggests.

Dos and Don’t for Compassionate Communication

The 13 Dos and Don’ts for Compassionate Communication

Though communicating with a memory-impaired person can be challenging, they warn against making assumptions about a person lacking the ability to have meaningful conversations.   

Though their ability to communicate depends on what level or stage of impairment the person is at, the Alzheimer’s Association (AA) encourages individuals working with them to implement the following tips:

  • Avoid excluding them in a conversation (depending on the stage of impairment they have).
  • Speak slowly and clearly, preferably in a one-on-one conversation in a quiet space with minimal distractions.
  • Don’t attempt to reason or argue with them.
  • Don’t remind them about something they’ve forgotten or question recent memories.
  • Do give short, one-sentence explanations or responses, and only ask one question at a time.
  • Always maintain eye contact.
  • Allow plenty of time for their comprehension and response.
  • Give visual demonstrations or offer simple step-by-step instructions to make tasks easier.
  • If agitated, agree with them or distract them toward a different subject.
  • Avoid confrontations at all costs – leave the room if necessary.
  • Go with the flow – be patient and cheerful.
  • Don’t take it personally.
  • Practice forgiveness.
Build Trust and Create a Sense of Safety

Why These Tips Help

Implementing these techniques not only helps your client feel less anxious, it also helps build trust and a sense of safety.

Above all, don’t pull away. They need your help and support to navigate the changing world around them.  Humor can also be helpful to lighten tenser moments and can be an opportunity for both of you to find new common ground.   

The Alzheimer’s Association also suggests you “consider the feelings behind the words. Sometimes the emotions being expressed are more important than what’s being said.”

If actively implemented, compassionate communication is truly one of the best tools to create a less stressful and calmer transition experience for not only your client, but for their families, for you, and your team. 

For more tips on how to help those suffering from Alzheimer’s or other memory impairment dementia, go to the Alzheimer’s Association website.


P.S. Interested in learning more about other psychological challenges that a downsizing transition can create? Check out Psychology Behind Downsizing and Relocation Stress Syndrome in my Downsizing Made Simpler Course Series.