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How To Talk Someone With Dementia

Get Creative With Your Communication:

How to Talk to Someone With Dementia
  • If words are not sufficient to get your point across, dont be afraid to experiment with different types of communication.
  • Use verbal, visual and auditory cues, and gentle touch to help your loved one understand.
  • For example, if it is time to get out of bed, open the curtains, show them the light outside, and show them their daytime clothes.

Speak To Them Respectfully

People with middle or late-stage dementia can find communicating very difficult. They may frequently lose their train of thought, repeat things, or say things that appear to make no sense or be irrelevant. Always remember that although conversation may feel challenging, you should always speak to them with respect and avoid infantilising them or falling into the trap of just speaking very loudly. Always speak with a normal, respectful, and patient tone of voice.

Common Frustrations & Difficulties

Communicating with a person with memory loss can be difficult, but the right strategies can bridge the gap and foster a more fulfilling relationship between the patient and/or loved one. For caregiverswhether you’re a professional or a family member caring for a loved oneits important to adopt a positive attitude to effectively communicate.

Engaging with patients and/or loved ones in an encouraging and patient manner will help minimize feelings of frustration. If you’re struggling to connect with a patient and/or loved one with memory loss, its important to know a few common frustrations and traps and how you can avoid them.

First, remind yourself that people with dementia and/or Alzheimers only have the present moment, so we can let them know that we enjoy their company. When caring for someone who has the disease, the most important thing to take care of is that persons feelings. A person with memory loss cant remember the minute before, they dont know whats going to happen in the next minute. They cant do that kind of thinking, so how they feel right now is the most important thing to pay attention to.

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Make The Conversation Low

Speaking of questions, I always try to word everything in a way that makes it ok if the person Im asking doesnt have an answer. Instead of Why did you, I use Why do you think to start questions. Using Do you remember also works well although I try not to use it too often. I dont want my loved one to feel bad if she is constantly answering no.

Another way to keep the conversation going is to bring up a favorite memory you have of the past. You can bring up a couple key details and then pause to see if your loved one will fill in a few more.

How To Speak To Someone With Dementia

How to Talk to Someone with Dementia: Strategies to ...

This video clip provides advice on speaking to a person with dementia .

When speaking with an individual with dementia, whether it be Alzheimers disease, Parkinsons disease dementia, Vascular dementia, or any of the many other types of dementias, its important to bear in mind that you need to speak to that person differently than you would someone without dementia. Knowing how to speak to a dementia patient is the key to having successful communication and interaction with that individual. These verbal interaction skills, which include three components, are as follows: How you speak, what it is you say, and how you react to the dementia patients effort to communicate.

First, you need to be aware of how to say what it is you want to say to the Alzheimers patient. The tone of your voice should be friendly and approachable, your pitch kept low, and the speed in which you talk, slow. For example, you dont want what you say to come across as bossy, as this is likely to create a situation where the individual will not want to communicate with you or follow direction from you.

As mentioned above, its important for you to talk slowly to an individual with dementia. People with Alzheimers disease have slower reaction times and it takes them longer than a healthy person to understand what you are saying. Therefore, if you talk too quickly, the individual will not be able to take in what you are saying.

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Dont Talk Down To Them

Caregivers and/or family members should never talk down to the individual with dementia and/or Alzheimer’s, and this especially includes baby talk, which doesn’t work neurologically . The fact that the patient and/or loved one is having problems with language does not mean that talking to them like a four-year-old is going to help. The communication style should still be to a respected, older adult.

Practical Tips For Talking To Someone With Dementia

Growing up, it felt as though we spent most Sundays visiting my Grandma in a nursing home. Some days she would be angry and combative. Others times she appeared listless and disinterested.

She rarely remembered who I was and sometimes wasnt even sure who my Mom her daughter was. She died when I was in 7th grade, and a final exam after her death confirmed she had Alzheimers disease.

Today, I live with my 81-year old mom who seems to be going down the same path. She confuses names, cant recall recent events and regularly forgets how to do everyday tasks such as starting the microwave. I also have an 83-year-old aunt in assisted living who has memory loss.

As you can probably imagine, the topic of how to talk to people with dementia has been of great interest to me. Ive spent a lot of time researching, talking to experts and, most importantly, refining my technique through trial and error with my loved ones.

Here are seven tips for talking to someone with dementia.

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Use A Warm Tone Of Voice

Its not what you said, its how you said it!

How often do we hear this feedback in the context of disagreements?

Tone-of-voice becomes an even more crucial cue for people living with dementia.

While your parent may no longer understand words like they used to, maintaining a warm, welcoming vocal tone can help them feel safe.

How Does Dementia Affect Communication


The effects of dementia on the brain can worsen a persons:

  • Communication and cognition
  • Visual perception
  • Problem-solving skills

Signs of dementia begin when healthy neurons or nerve cells in the brain stop working with other brain cells and die, according to the National Institute of Neurological Disorders and Stroke. While losing neurons is more common with age, people with dementia experience a severe loss of neurons, which can contribute to personality changes, a decrease in communication skills, and losing emotional control.

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Supporting The Person To Express Themselves

  • Allow the person plenty of time to respond it may take them longer to process the information and work out their response.
  • Try not to interrupt the person even to help them find a word as it can break the pattern of communication.
  • If the person is upset, let them express their feelings. Allow them the time that they need, and try not to dismiss their worries sometimes the best thing to do is just listen, and show that you are there.

Do Not Shy Away From Asking For Help

No one may have all the answers especially when it comes to taking care of a person with dementia. Try doing research on how their behavior changes and what needs to be done to help them live their lives without too many complications. Hire help when it becomes too much as it also ensures that you do not become too frustrated or drained. When you have multiple family members who can help, ask everyone to pitch in and look after the patient so that you can get some personal space to breathe and re-energize when it is your time to look after the patient. When you feel like you can no longer look after your loved one at your own home, it may be time to consider assisted living. In such case, look into dementia care homes that can provide specially trained professionals.

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Why Do People With Dementia Want To Go Home

Dementia is an umbrella term for memory loss and impairment in other cognitive abilities that are severe enough to interfere with daily life. Its caused by damage to brain cells, which can interfere with the ability of those cells to communicate with each other. This affects thinking and behavior.

When a person with dementia asks to go home, the chances are slim that they actually want to go to a specific, physical location. Home represents comfort, memories, and people that they might miss or feel unable to connect with. In short, the request to go home is often more of a request for comfort rather than a change of actual location.

Responding with compassion and understanding is one of the best things you can do, even though hearing this request can be frustrating at times.

Listening To And Understanding Someone With Dementia

Tips For Talking To Someone With Dementia infographic

Communication is a two-way process. As a carer of someone with dementia, you will probably have to learn to listen more carefully.

You may need to be more aware of non-verbal messages, such as facial expressions and body language. You may have to use more physical contact, such as reassuring pats on the arm, or smile as well as speaking.

Active listening can help:

  • use eye contact to look at the person, and encourage them to look at you when either of you are talking
  • try not to interrupt them, even if you think you know what they’re saying
  • stop what you’re doing so you can give the person your full attention while they speak
  • minimise distractions that may get in the way of communication, such as the television or the radio playing too loudly, but always check if it’s OK to do so
  • repeat what you heard back to the person and ask if it’s accurate, or ask them to repeat what they said

Page last reviewed: 9 January 2020 Next review due: 9 January 2023

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What About Communicating On The Phone Or Via Video Chat

Talking on the phone can be so difficult. Many of us realize this when we call someone with Alzheimers. The calls we once made and were easy can become so quiet and one sided. While there is no magic to having a fruitful call with someone with Alzheimers, there are ways to enhance the dialogue. And again, it starts with a plan.

  • Resources

Making Sure The Person Is Comfortable

  • Make sure youre in a good place to communicate. Ideally it will be quiet and calm, with good lighting. Busy environments can make it especially difficult for a person with dementia to concentrate on the conversation, so turn off distractions such as the radio or TV.
  • If there is a time of day where the person is able to communicate more clearly, try to use this time to ask any questions or talk about anything you need to.
  • Make the most of good days and find ways to adapt on more difficult ones.
  • Make sure any of the persons other needs are met before you start for example, ensuring they are not in pain or hungry.

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Listen With Your Eyes As Well As Your Ears

People with dementia can easily become confused, irritated, or scared. Being sensitive to their emotions and how they are feeling at any given time can help communications to run smoother. This includes paying close attention to their tone of voice and facial expressions as well as listening to their words to judge their emotional response to what you are saying.

Reassure Them Of Their Safety

How to Talk to Someone with Dementia

Think about a time when you felt scared or concerned in an unfamiliar place. You probably wanted to go home, right? Elderly individuals may use I want to go home as a way of expressing feelings of tenseness or anxiety. It may just be a way of asking for some extra comfort.

Respond in a calm, positive, and supportive manner by validating their feelings. This helps them feel understood and supported, which can alleviate some of their anxieties and possibly eliminate their desire to go home.

Tell them that you love and care for them, and even if they live somewhere new, you are still there to care for them whenever they need.

Your loved one is likely to mimic some of your feelings. If you are able to remain calm, the chances are high that theyll be calm as well. If theyre comfortable with it, you can offer physical contact at this time, like a hand on the shoulder or a hug.

Additionally, you may want to consider getting them a stuffed animal or soothing blanket that can help comfort them in situations like these. Plus, it can help them feel safe if youre ever not around.

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Things To Say To Someone With Alzheimers

Seeing someone you care about experience Alzheimers or another type of dementia is painstakingly difficult. Knowing what to say to someone whos lost his or her memory can also be hard. However, how you approach conversations can have a significant impact on your loved one.

The most important tip for communication with someone living with Alzheimers is to meet them where they are, said Ruth Drew, director of Information and Support Services at the Alzheimers Association. In the early stage of the disease, a person is still able to have meaningful conversations, but may repeat stories, feel overwhelmed by excessive stimulation, or have difficulty finding the right word. Be patient and understand that their brain is not working in the way it once did.

As the disease progresses, communicating with that person may become even more challenging. However, if you recognize the changes and challenges that come with dementia, you will more easily be able to alter your conversations with that person to meet his or her needs.

This may require slowing down and making eye contact with the person as you speak, says Drew. Use short, simple sentences, ask one question at a time, and give the person time to process and respond before continuing the conversation. If you are kind, gentle and relaxed, everything will work better.

Read on for six helpful things to say to those with Alzheimers, and three topics and phrases experts recommend avoiding.

Greetings Or Verbal Handshake

Think beforehand about how you are going to greet the person. Do they know who you are? They may not know you even though you know them well. Think about whether you need to say your name or whether a warm hello will suffice. A warm, friendly approach is important in creating a relaxed atmosphere for a conversation to start and develop.

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Read Creating Moments Of Joy By Jolene Brackey

One of the best books on dementia communication is Creating Moments of Joy by Jolene Brackey.

It features a variety of uplifting stories and inspiring techniques for managing Alzheimers and other types of dementia.

As Jolene puts so well herself:

We are not able to create a perfectly wonderful day with someone who has dementia, but it is absolutely attainable to create a perfectly wonderful moment a moment that puts a smile on their face, a twinkle in their eye, or triggers a memory.

Encouragingly, she goes on to say:

Five minutes later, they wont remember what you did or said, but the feeling you left them with will linger.

The book is available on Amazon and other stores if you want to find out more.

Creating Moments of Joy by Jolene Brackey Source:

Ten Tips For Communicating With A Person With Dementia

7 Tips for Talking to Seniors With Dementia

We arenât born knowing how to communicate with a person with dementiaâbut we can learn. Improving your communication skills will help make caregiving less stressful and will likely improve the quality of your relationship with your loved one. Good communication skills will also enhance your ability to handle the difficult behavior you may encounter as you care for a person with a dementing illness.

  • Set a positive mood for interaction. Your attitude and body language communicate your feelings and thoughts more strongly than your words do. Set a positive mood by speaking to your loved one in a pleasant and respectful manner. Use facial expressions, tone of voice, and physical touch to help convey your message and show your feelings of affection.
  • Get the personâs attention. Limit distractions and noiseâturn off the radio or TV, close the curtains or shut the door, or move to quieter surroundings. Before speaking, make sure you have her attention address her by name, identify yourself by name and relation, and use nonverbal cues and touch to help keep her focused. If she is seated, get down to her level and maintain eye contact.
  • Listen with your ears, eyes, and heart. Be patient in waiting for your loved oneâs reply. If she is struggling for an answer, itâs okay to suggest words. Watch for nonverbal cues and body language, and respond appropriately. Always strive to listen for the meaning and feelings that underlie the words.
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    Recognize What Youre Up Against

    Because theres no cure for dementia, people with the disease will gradually have a more difficult time understanding and communicating. Alzheimers and other dementias are a hard journey, says Gurung. I always encourage loved ones and professionals to educate themselves to better support, empower, celebrate, and encourage people with these diseases. Were in this together.

    Gurung advises families to continue learning using the following communication tools for dementia:


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