Listening skills in dementia care

Cultivating a more inclusive conceptualization of active listening verbal processes


  • Kaitlin Cannava San Jose State University
  • Elizabeth Parks Colorado State University
  • Bentley Porterfield Colorado State University



Active Listening, Caregiving, Alzheimer’s Disease, Dementia, Storytelling


Developing strategies to provide effective supportive messages for people with dementia that also promote the wellbeing of active listeners is essential for healthy caregiver–care-recipient relationships. We work to identify, critique and explore the pragmatics of language patterns between caregiving listeners and care-recipient listeners who experience dementia, with a focus on cultivating a more inclusive conceptualization of active listening verbal behaviors. Through content analysis of 66 conversations in the Alzheimer’s and dementia context utilizing an adapted Active Listening Observation Scale (ALOS), our findings create a baseline from which to explore listening behaviors and the wellbeing of both caregivers and care-recipients. The results point to caregivers exhibiting higher active listening behaviors than care-recipients on every measure, and that across the duration of the conversation caregivers’ active listening on a global level decreases and care-recipients’ active listening increases. Ultimately, we hope that this research will decrease negative impacts on caregivers of the caregiving role, by addressing communication challenges; increase the agency and voice of care-recipients as listeners who contribute to communication events; create more inclusive conceptualizations of active listening verbal processes; and improve the quality of active listening in Alzheimer’s and dementia caregiving contexts.

Author Biographies

Kaitlin Cannava, San Jose State University

Kaitlin Cannava received her PhD in Interpersonal Communication from Louisiana State University and is currently a lecturer at San Jose State University. Her research interests include supportive communication and conversation.

Elizabeth Parks, Colorado State University

Elizabeth Parks received her PhD in Communication from the University of Washington and is currently an assistant professor at Colorado State University and adjunct assistant professor with the Colorado School of Public Health. Her scholarship blends social scientific and humanistic methods to improve listening and dialogue, and includes her book The Ethics of Listening: Creating Space for Sustainable Dialogue (2019, Lexington Books).

Bentley Porterfield, Colorado State University

Bentley Porterfield received her MA in Communication Studies from Colorado State University. Her scholarship highlights the imperative of critically centering identity in supportive communication scholarship. Her research interests include investigating the intersections of health communication, social support and identity, particularly as it pertains to maternal health and health equity.


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How to Cite

Cannava, K., Parks, E., & Porterfield, B. (2022). Listening skills in dementia care: Cultivating a more inclusive conceptualization of active listening verbal processes. Communication and Medicine, 17(2), 122–133.