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7 Ways to Effectively Communicate With Your Confused Aging Relative


When confusion in an older adult begins, sometimes the signs are very subtle, and then it hits all of the sudden. It may leave you thinking, "Where did this come from?" and "When did this begin?" after having a conversation with your aging relative. Then, you start thinking back, and realize that the signs were there all along and you didn’t see them. 

First, you need to understand what confusion is. Confusion is a broad term that refers to a decline in the normal cognitive function of an individual. The cognitive changes may be associated with one or more conditions such as dementia, delirium, or other medical conditions. It tends to include a number of the following signs and symptoms including lack of awareness, poor attention span, disorientation to time and place, trouble following a conversation, unclear or illogical speech, impaired short- term memory, difficulty in planning and carrying out tasks, inappropriate behavior, disconnection from reality, or even delusional beliefs.

There isn't technically a cure for confusion in the elderly. That being said, communication is key when it comes to dealing with this confusion. Here are 7 ways that I use when attempting to effectively communicate with confused clients, and even relatives: 

  1. Try addressing your relative directly, and by name.
  2. To gain their attention from the beginning, sit at the same level as them and maintain eye contact.
  3. Speak in a distinctive matter, but resist the temptation to speak loudly, unless they are hard of hearing.
  4. Help orient your relative - Always explain (or re-explain) who you are and what you are doing.
  5. Support and reassure them within what you are speaking about.
  6. Use simple, direct wording. Present one question, instruction, or statement at a time.
  7. If your relative can hear you, but does not understand what you are saying, try rephrasing your statement.

It can become heartbreaking, and hard to process when your parent or relative can no longer process simple conversations or tasks like they used to. Effective communication can help in combating some of these emotions. Give it a try!


Is your loved one struggling with isolation, lack of cognitive stimulation, or dementia? Our EMBRACE Program is designed with the aim to slow cognitive decline and provide meaningful engagement for everyone, including those with dementia, through every season of life.Contact us today!

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Written By: Care Manager - Dixie Qualls, RN, BSN

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