Dealing with Late-Stage Dementia

When a loved one is in late-stage dementia, communication becomes more challenging, but also more important.  Often, people have word-finding difficulty or may speak nonsensically.  This may throw you off at first, but keep trying to establish a connection.  In the late stages, they may not be able to speak at all.  With patience, you can experiment with a variety of approaches, and eventually break through.

“Every time you visit, look into your friend or family member’s eyes, say hello and smile.  This will set a warm and friendly tone for your visit,” says The Reverend Kathy F. Berry, Memory Care Chaplain for Westminster Canterbury.  “If he or she is seated, you should be seated as well.  Standing over someone creates tension.  And always greet them by their preferred name, or if that doesn’t seem right, use their given name.  The key to communicating at this stage is to pay attention.  You might have to adjust your approach depending on the response.”

According to the book, When Words Fail, you should let people experiencing dementia lead conversations and be careful not to use the word “remember” since this could add additional frustration.  Avoid asking a lot of questions, and be sensitive to the emotions behind their words.  Most importantly, assume they understand more than they can say.

WHEN WORDS FAIL will equip those in ministry and also caregivers on how to reach out to family and friends living with dementia and offer person-centered spiritual care.  Ministering to the mind, body and soul, this book has practical examples and tools designed to meet the emotional and physical needs, and devotes particular attention to ways of communicating even after words have failed. To find out more information on how you can purchase your copy, please visit or contact Vanessa Perry at 804-200-1502 or

Return to the blog.