Dementia Insights: Non-Verbal Communication

As dementia progresses, it can make verbal communication difficult or impossible.


As dementia progresses, it can make verbal communication difficult or impossible.

As dementia progresses, it can make verbal communication difficult or impossible. However, non-verbal communication may remain an option and for some people with dementia, it becomes the main way they communicate. If you are supporting someone with dementia, being prepared for this eventuality is a good idea.

Non-verbal communication is something everyone uses and yet it’s something we are somewhat less conscious of than verbal communication. If you watch two people having a conversation, but can’t hear what that are saying, you’ll notice a constant stream of gestures, facial expressions and body language that combine to augment their verbal communications.

If dementia removes the verbal option from communication with someone you care for, non-verbal becomes the main method of communication. Here are some ways in which non-verbal communication can be used to maintain your relationship with someone with dementia.

Physical contact can be used to show that you are aware of them and at the same time provide reassurance. The simple act of holding someone’s hand and maintaining eye contact with them is a good way to provide reassurance.

How you approach someone with dementia can be very important. Approaching too quickly, getting too close, or standing over them and looking down at them are all potentially intimidating. It’s important to respect their personal space and communicate with them at eye level.

As we’ve already noted, we are less aware of our non-verbal communication. So, take a minute to think about how you are moving and what signals you are giving off. A person with dementia will still be able to read and interpret your body language, so avoiding unpredictable and sudden movements, loud or harsh speech and unfriendly facial expressions will help to provide them with reassurance.

Although the person you are talking to may no longer be able to reliably communicate with you verbally, you can help them to understand how you feel or what you are saying by matching your body language and, especially, your facial expression, with what you are saying. This is particularly important, for example, when sharing happy memories or thoughts – emphasise the positivity of your verbal message with facial expressions of happiness and enthusiasm.

With practice, you will become better at reading what a person is communicating through their body language. You’ll gradually become more aware of how their body language matches their mood or their level of engagement. This can help you to re-engage or calm them if they seem bored or distressed.

Although verbal language may become difficult, someone with dementia may retain the ability to respond to visual cues. This can help with making choices, such as meal options. Photos, cue cards or digital images of food can help them select what they enjoy and want and can be used to stimulate appetite.

Non-verbal expression may also help someone with dementia to relax and pass the time. Hobbies such as arts and crafts can be a great source of comfort and can be very absorbing.

Although communication through speech may become difficult or lost, music and song may still be a way that a person with dementia can express themself. Singing, music and arts sessions may be available at dementia-friendly cafes and group sessions in your area.

Social & Support Links

Here at Bluebird, we are involved with Calderdale Dementia Friendly Community (CDFC) an organisation that wants to support groups and organisations to help make Calderdale a dementia-friendly borough. Find out more about them on their website

You can find local memory cafés (also known as a dementia café), on the Alzheimer's Society website – meet other people with dementia and their carers in an informal drop-in setting to share advice, tips and support

Song: Try the Singing for the Brain groups run by the Alzheimer’s Society – singing is known to improve mood and wellbeing and is also great fun

The Alzheimer's Society offers support near you and Age UK offers social activities for what's available in your area.

Home Care

If you need more support, following your dementia diagnosis, home care can help. Living in your own home is the preferred option of many people with dementia and has obvious benefits in helping you to maintain a familiar environment and day-to-day routine. At Bluebird, we offer a full range of home care, from occasional visits, through to live-in care and respite care. Find out more on our website: /