End of life care

5. Communication

In the later stages of dementia, the person is likely to have problems with communication such as limited or no speech. They will be less able to understand what people are saying to them. Relying only on verbal communication can make it difficult to understand what the person is trying to communicate, which may mean not noticing if they are in pain, hungry or thirsty, for example.

The person with dementia may communicate their needs and feelings without using speech (non-verbal communication). They may use body language, facial expressions or show agitation. Importantly, the person will still have feelings about what is going on even though they are in the later stages of dementia and can no longer communicate verbally. For example, they may feel happy hearing you talk to them.

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.
  • Maintain eye contact as much as possible.
  • 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 may respond to the tone of your voice and feel a level of connection with you even if they don’t understand what you’re saying.
  • Talk about things of interest to the person or reminisce about things from the past.