Holiday Help: Communication Strategies for Individuals with Hearing Loss, Dementia, and More


Speech-language pathologist Jaime Cascarano of South Shore Health

Jaime Cascarano, MA, CCC-SLP

An older man smiles sitting on the edge of his bed as he talks to his adult son, who is holding his hand.

This holiday season, you may be preparing to host or take part in gatherings with family and friends. 

Have you thought about the communication needs of the loved ones you’ll be seeing? 

As a speech-language pathologist, I often watch the communication interactions that happen around this time of the year. 

Is there “the over-sharer,” who doesn’t let anyone get a word in? Is there the person who is quiet and reserved? 

Each of us has our own communication style and preference – but there are also people who may have had some medical changes over the year that have affected their ability to communicate.

The following strategies may help spread the joy of conversation among all of your guests. 

How to communicate with individuals with aphasia

Aphasia is an impairment in language comprehension and expression due to damage to specific areas of the brain. 

The major causes are stroke and head trauma. 

When speaking to a person with aphasia, use the following strategies:

  1. Use simplified language with shorter sentences without “talking down” to the person. Instead of “I saw Mary last month and she is really looking great,” try, “Mary looks great. I saw her last month.”
  2. Speak slowly, allowing time to process information.
  3. Provide repetition/rephrasing when asked or if the person appears confused. 
  4. Provide additional time for the person to formulate their message.
  5. Ask the person if they want help when they might be trying to think of a word before filling in the word for them.
  6. Note that talking in a group can be hard to follow. Try promoting one-on-one conversation.

How to communicate with individuals with Parkinson’s

Does a family member or loved one have Parkinson’s? 

They might be experiencing some difficulty projecting their voice or their voice may be quiet and hard to hear. 

In this case, follow these steps to improve communication effectiveness: 

  1. Provide a setting that allows for quiet, one-on-one conversation instead of trying to talk over a group. 
  2. In a group, take turns in conversation and give the individual a chance to speak. Limit side conversations within the group.
  3. Body positioning helps: communicate face-to-face instead of side-by-side.

How to communicate with individuals with hearing loss

Are you or your family having a hard time hearing at gatherings? Do you typically wear hearing aids? 

Now would not be the time to leave them at home – if you need them, wear them! 

Here are some additional supports for those with hearing loss:

  1. Do not shout or speak directly in to the person’s ear.
  2. Speak at a normal rate.
  3. Make sure you gain the person’s attention and maintain face-to-face positioning before speaking.
  4. Do not shout room to room.
  5. Talk in a quiet area without background noise – turn down that holiday music!

How to communicate with individuals with dementia

Does your family member have difficulty remembering or show signs of dementia?

According to the World Health Organization, dementia affects 55 million people worldwide.

A well-known therapy approach for communicating with individuals with dementia is reminiscence therapy. The holidays are the best time to reminisce!

  1. Stimulate conversations about past events, activities and experiences.
  2. Use prompts to stimulate conversation (photographs, familiar items, music from the past).
  3. Allow the person to speak freely about their memories without correcting timelines and specific details.

These are just a few of many communication difficulties an individual may have. 

If a friend or loved one is having some difficulty, please don’t allow them to exclude themselves from conversation! 

Social isolation is a common for individuals with communication difficulties – every conversation can make a positive difference.

If you can promote communication in a caring and comfortable manner, it could be the only opportunity this person has to participate and share their thoughts and experiences throughout the past year. 

Jaime Cascarano, MA, CCC-SLP is a speech-language pathologist at South Shore Health.

Learn more about our Speech Therapy program.