An old man looking up with a confused look and question marks above his head.

Dementia Care: Understanding Non-Verbal Cues

Caring for a loved one with dementia comes with its unique challenges, especially when it comes to communication. Non-verbal cues, such as facial expressions and body language, become essential channels through which dementia patients convey their thoughts, emotions, and needs. 

By attuning ourselves to these unspoken expressions, caregivers can gain profound insights into their loved one’s experience and offer the appropriate support. 

In this article, we will delve into the significance of decoding non-verbal cues in dementia care, enabling us to bridge the communication gap and provide the care and understanding our loved ones truly need.

Decoding Non-Verbal Cues

Facial Expressions

Observe your loved ones facial expressions closely. By being attentive to these facial cues, you can respond accordingly and create a more meaningful interaction. Here are some common facial cues and their potential meanings:

  1. Furrowed Brow: A furrowed brow often indicates confusion, frustration, or an attempt to comprehend something. 
  2. Smile: A smile can signify a range of positive emotions, such as joy, contentment, or recognition. 
  3. Grimace or Frown: A grimace or frown can indicate discomfort, pain, or dissatisfaction. 
  4. Raised Eyebrows: Raised eyebrows might suggest surprise, curiosity, or heightened attention.
  5. Blank Expression: A blank or flat expression, where the face appears devoid of emotion, could indicate a disconnection from the immediate environment or an emotional withdrawal. 

Body Language

Pay attention to your loved ones body language, as it can reveal a lot about their emotional state. Agitated movements might indicate restlessness or discomfort, while relaxed and open posture may suggest a sense of calm. Adjusting the environment or offering comfort can help alleviate any distress. Here are some common body language cues and their potential meanings:

  1. Agitated Movements: Restless or agitated movements, such as pacing, fidgeting, or repetitive motions, often indicate a state of discomfort, anxiety, or restlessness.
  2. Tense Posture: A rigid or tense posture may indicate discomfort or unease. The person might be physically uncomfortable or feeling anxious in their surroundings. 
  3. Relaxed and Open Posture: A relaxed and open posture, with shoulders down and a comfortable stance, can suggest a sense of calm and contentment. 
  4. Restlessness or Wandering: Restlessness and wandering behavior can signal a need for movement or a desire for stimulation. Providing appropriate activities or redirecting their attention can help address their restlessness.
  5. Aggression or Defensive Posture: Aggressive or defensive body language, such as clenched fists, crossed arms, or a defensive stance, might be a response to feeling threatened, overwhelmed, or frustrated.

Eye Contact

Eye contact can be a powerful form of communication. By meeting your loved one’s gaze and responding with warmth and reassurance, you can establish a stronger bond. Here are some common eye contact cues and their potential meanings:

  • 1. Prolonged Gaze: A prolonged or intentional gaze often reflects a desire for connection and engagement. Meeting their gaze with attentiveness and warmth can validate their need for connection and create a sense of emotional closeness.
  • 2. Lack of Eye Contact: Avoiding eye contact may indicate anxiety, confusion, or discomfort. When encountering this, it is important to approach gently and with patience, offering reassurance and creating a safe space for communication.
  • 3. Shifting Eye Contact: Individuals with dementia may exhibit shifting eye contact, where they briefly make eye contact but quickly avert their gaze. This behavior could stem from cognitive challenges or difficulties maintaining focus.


Decoding non-verbal cues is a valuable skill in understanding and supporting your loved one with dementia. It’s important to consider the various expressions discussed above within the broader context of their behavior and communication patterns. 

Remember that a single expression may not provide a complete understanding, so it’s crucial to observe other non-verbal cues and consider their overall well-being. By being attentive to their facial expressions, body language, and other non-verbal cues, you can gain valuable insights into their thoughts, emotions, and needs, allowing you to provide the understanding and support they require.