Making Each Word Count – Effective Verbal Cues

Let’s face it: telepathy isn’t one of your many talents. And now your loved one doesn’t even understand you when you say something out loud! So, unless they have a better handle on the ESP thing than you, one of the most practical ways to communicate more effectively with your loved one is to make some simple modifications to your verbal cues.

“Finding ways to talk to your loved one to avoid confusion and get them to do what you need them to can become extremely challenging as dementia progresses,” says Jillian Castellano, Community Relations Director at YourLife™ of Coconut Creeka Memory Care community in Coconut Creek, Florida. “Learning ways to eliminate extraneous wording and make each word count will help you meet this challenge now and in the future.”

In this post, we’ll explore effective verbal cues that quickly and easily let your loved one know you expect a response or reaction from them.


It’s natural to make conversation with your loved one as you are going about your day. You may chit-chat during a car ride or while making dinner, and they may or may not completely understand what you are saying. This is perfectly fine so long as they don’t become frustrated or upset while trying to follow along. Perhaps all they need from that conversation is to feel connected to you and reassured that they are not alone.

However, when you need your loved one to take action, like answer your questions or follow your instructions, your best bet is to shorten your phrases. For example, instead of saying, “It’s time to get washed up and dressed for your doctor’s appointment later.” You might say, “Mom, you have a doctor’s appointment today,” then “Let’s put your shoes on; I’ll help you,” then “Here’s your coat; put your arm through here,” and “We’re going to get in the car now,” and so on.

Eliminating extra words and issuing one instruction at a time will provide much clearer verbal cues that help them understand what you need them to do.


If you are milling about cleaning up your loved one’s room and making conversation about your day or the weather outside, you aren’t necessarily looking directly at your loved one. To distinguish your idle comments from essential information or instructions, eye contact can be key. Once you move from conversation to actionable phrases, make eye contact to get your loved one’s attention. This will signal that what you have to say requires their participation and will help them focus.


As your loved one becomes less and less able to understand everything you are communicating to them, slowing down your speech makes it much easier for them to recognize key words and follow what you are saying. Without the ability to comprehend the nuances in your faster and wordier conversation, they may ignore the whole conversation. So, when you want them to follow your instructions or answer your questions, slow down and make sure they understand what you just said before moving on to the next step.


When helping your loved one go about their daily routines, it’s okay to ask questions they don’t need to answer, such as “It’s a beautiful day out there, isn’t it?” However, once you start asking questions you need answers to, you’ll want them to be less open-ended. For example, narrow their response options by asking either/or questions such as “Would you like to wear the purple coat or the brown one?”

Also, asking straightforward and answerable questions, one at a time, will help them understand and answer appropriately while speeding up the time it takes to get an answer.


Another useful way to make your verbal cues stand out is to add non-verbal cues. Non-verbal communication will become increasingly useful as your loved one’s condition progresses. So, if you have followed the tips above and your loved one is still not responding appropriately, perhaps you can place a gentle hand to their back as you ask them to lean forward or pantomime taking a drink when you ask if they are thirsty.

It isn’t always easy to determine how to change your communication style to talk to your loved one more effectively. However, making every word count with concise verbal cues can help both you and your loved one avoid frustration and confusion while strengthening your caregiver/care recipient relationship through various stages of memory loss.

Need specific tips for communicating with your loved one as their memory loss progresses? Call the dementia care experts at YourLife™ of Coconut Creek! ​954-228-6319


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