End of life care

5. Communication

Problems with communication are a feature of the later stages of dementia. The person will generally have limited or no speech. They will also have reduced ability to understand what is being said to them. Relying only on verbal communication can lead to difficulties understanding what the person is trying to communicate, possibly missing basic needs such as pain, hunger and thirst.

Even though spoken language is severely affected, the person with dementia may still use non-verbal communication and behaviour to show their needs and feelings. This may include body language, facial expressions or agitation. Importantly, the person will still be able to respond at an emotional level, even when they can no longer communicate verbally and their dementia is very advanced.

Communicating with the person with dementia at the end of life: tips for carers 

  • Non-verbal communication from you, through gestures, body language, facial expression and touch, can help.
  • Use appropriate physical contact such as holding hands or a hug to reassure the person that you are there for them.
  • Take your time and look for non-verbal signals from the person with dementia.
  • Continue talking to the person, even if you don't think they can follow what you are saying. They will understand at some level and may respond to the tone of your voice even if the factual content is lost.