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How To Talk To A Person With Dementia

Help Make Communication Easier

How to Talk to Someone With Dementia

The first step is to understand that the disease causes changes in communication skills. The second step is to try some tips that may make communication easier:

  • Make eye contact and call the person by name.
  • Be aware of your tone, how loud your voice is, how you look at the person, and your body language.
  • Encourage a two-way conversation for as long as possible.
  • Use other methods besides speaking, such as gentle touching.
  • Try distracting the person if communication creates problems.

To encourage the person to communicate with you:

  • Show a warm, loving, matter-of-fact manner.
  • Hold the persons hand while you talk.
  • Be open to the persons concerns, even if he or she is hard to understand.
  • Let him or her make some decisions and stay involved.
  • Be patient with angry outbursts. Remember, its the illness talking.

To speak effectively with a person who has Alzheimers:

  • Offer simple, step-by-step instructions.
  • Repeat instructions and allow more time for a response. Try not to interrupt.
  • Dont talk about the person as if he or she isnt there.
  • Dont talk to the person using baby talk or a baby voice.

Identify The Emotional State Of The Response

How is this person feeling? If they have been able to speak, what do the words convey? What does their tone of voice convey? What does their facial expression tell you? What does their body position tell you? What does their respiration rate tell you? Is there any indication that the person is in physical discomfort or pain?

Observing the above will help family members, friends and care staff to achieve better understanding in a conversation. In dementia care you need to listen with your eyes and your ears.

Talking In The Middle Stage

This stage usually lasts for the longest amount of time. During the middle stage, you might notice you need to adapt how you were talking to your loved one in the early stage as they start to struggle to communicate with you.

At this stage, you may find its helpful to keep good eye contact while you speak and speak clearly and slowly. Group conversations might now be too challenging, so it will probably be easier to talk to your loved one on your own somewhere quiet.

If you ask your loved one any questions, only ask one at a time and wait for them to answer before asking another one, as this can be confusing for them to answer. And if you give any instructions, you could try explaining one at a time or writing them down and going through them together.

Your loved one might get confused and frustrated trying to communicate, so its important to avoid arguing maintaining a calm tone of voice if you can. Or you might find that changing the conversation or what you were both doing, could help calm them down.

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Dont Answer Questions Of Patient/loved Ones Regarding Bad Memories

People with Alzheimer’s often ask difficult questions, mostly about people who have passed away years ago. Its not helpful to remind the patient and/or loved one that a person theyre asking about has passed away. Rather than avoid the subject, you can say, He/shes not here right now, but tell me about him/her. Often the person with memory loss is looking for the sensation and security that they would have if their loved one was around.

Caregivers and/or family members should be helping patients and/or loved ones comfortable, safe, and protected. Elderly women, for example, who have had children commonly ask, Where are my babies? This question will often come up at meal time, when feeding the children was an important part of motherhood. Find a way to soothe their concern. You could say, The babies are sleeping.

As stated earlier, trying to bring a person with Alzheimer’s the present-day reality is not effective. Caregivers and/or family members should adapt to the patient and/or loved ones reality. Its ok to go anywhere in any time period in order to communicate.

Communication Strategies For Alzheimer’s

How to Talk to &  Understand What Someone with Dementia ...

Dementia doesnt define someone its important to remember that the person you love is still there when they are living with dementia, its just you may have to work a little harder and use different communication strategies to bring them to the fore. Dementia damages the memory centre of the brain, the hippocampus, however the emotion centre is largely unaffected, so while the person may not be able to recall that you visited that morning, theyll still get the feeling of love and warmth that you inspired in them when you were there.

Therefore, its important to remember that even if your loved one doesnt remember your name or who you are, they will never lose the feeling that you bring out in them when they hear your voice or feel the touch of your skin, so if you can do nothing more, talk to them and hold their hand it may work wonders.

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Do Not Keep Correcting The Patient

People with dementia do not like it when someone keeps correcting them every time they say something that may not be right. It makes them feel bad about themselves and can make them drift out of the conversation. Discussions should be humorous and light and one should always speak slowly and clearly using simple and short sentences to capture and keep the interest of the dementia patients.

Tips For How To Talk To Someone With Dementia

When a loved one is still able to communicate but its apparent that theres some kind of cognitive decline, keeping up that communication can be a benefit for their prognosis. Here are some tips that can help you figure out how to talk to someone with dementia.

For starters, it helps to speak slowly and clearly, using easy-to-understand words and short sentences. Additionally, its also a good idea to maintain eye contact during any communication so that your loved one knows that youre actively engaged. Once a question has been asked or youre done speaking, give them ample time to respond. Dementia can make it harder to formulate thoughts, so they might need extra time to think of and communicate a response.

When youre not around, its also important for your loved one to communicate more with others, so putting them in situations where they have opportunities to communicate can be a good thing. Its why many family members opt for some kind of senior day care setting that encourages more interactions and conversations in a given day. Aside from other community members, there will also be qualified staff on hand to help out and provide an extra level of care when needed.

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Moving To A Care Home

If the persons needs become too great for you to manage at home, you may need to consider other long-term options. If youre becoming exhausted or the person with dementia is becoming harder to care for, a care home can be the best option for you both.

A move to a care home can be a difficult decision, but there are limits to the care you can provide.

If the person you care for is moving into a care home, familiar furniture, belongings or music can help them feel more settled.

What Are The Symptoms


Usually the first symptom is memory loss. Often the person who has a memory problem doesn’t notice it, but family and friends do. As dementia gets worse:

  • You may have more trouble doing things that take planning, like making a list and going shopping.
  • You may have trouble using or understanding words.
  • You may get lost in places you know well.

Over time, people with dementia may begin to act very differently. They may become scared and strike out at others, or they may become clingy and childlike. They may stop brushing their teeth or bathing.

Later, they cannot take care of themselves. They may not know where they are. They may not know their loved ones when they see them.

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Dont Shy Away From Tears Or Laughter

People with dementia often lead very emotional lives. Anxiety and grief may be quite near to the surface. Dont shy away from tears. Stay with the person and offer them natural support.

You may not be able to fix the cause of the anxiety or grief, but seeing this through with them and not being afraid will help them enormously. Never underestimate this. Likewise, having a belly laugh together over something silly is a great way of getting to know each other.

Communication Changes In Dementia

  • difficulty in finding a word a related word might be given instead of one they cannot remember
  • the use of speech that does not make sense
  • an inability to understand what you are saying or the ability to only grasp a part of what you are saying
  • writing and reading skills that have deteriorated
  • loss of the normal social conventions of conversation an increasing tendency to interrupt, ignore a speaker or fail to respond when spoken to
  • difficulty in expressing emotions appropriately.

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Do Try To Be Forgiving And Patient

Do not forget that dementia is the condition that results in irrational behavior and causes dementia sufferers to act the way they do. The patients demand plenty of patience and forgiveness from the people looking after them. Have the heart to let things go instead of carrying grudges around for something that the patient may not be in control of.

Dont Infantilize The Person

Tips For Talking To Someone With Dementia infographic

Dont talk down to the person or treat them like an infant. This is sometimes called “elderspeak” and it’s got to go.

Have you ever observed how people talk to babies? They might use a high pitched tone and get close to the babys face. While this is appropriate for infants, its not fitting for communicating with adults. Regardless of how much the person with dementia can or cannot understand, treat them with honor and use a respectful tone of voice.

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Avoid The Phrase Dont You Remember

Even if weve met 30 times, I always introduce myself: My name is Morgen and we met last week and had a chance to visit, Hartford says. Saying, dont you remember? is not a good phrase. They get put on the spot and can get stressed. Getting stressed can make their memory worse.

As for reminding someone that they have dementia, in some cases that is not a problem. But other people dont know anything is wrong with them and telling them could upset them and make things worse, Hartford says.

How Do You Start A Conversation With Someone With Dementia

Tips for Engaging a Person With Dementia in Conversation

  • Look directly at the person when you speak.
  • Introduce yourself before starting a conversation.
  • Start conversations by introducing the topic.
  • Speak in a loving manner.
  • Offer one idea at a time.
  • Use simple words and short sentences.
  • Speak slowly and clearly.
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    How To Talk With A Parent About Dementia Symptoms

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  • How To Talk With A Parent About Dementia Symptoms

  • Watching your parents age can be difficult and when signs of dementia appear, it can be harder than ever. Talking to parents about these changes may seem overwhelming, but having the tough conversation now can lead to an earlier diagnosis and will help everyone better cope with the changes.

    Learn more about talking to a parent exhibiting dementia symptoms.

    Common Frustrations & Difficulties

    Dementia Tips – How to Speak to Someone with Advanced Dementia

    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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    Do’s And Don’ts For Communicating With Someone Who Has Dementia


    Caring for someone with dementia isnt something that any of us expects to do when we are young. Yet, for the adult sons and daughters of more than five million American seniors*, that is their reality. And whether youre caring for your loved one every day or just occasionally, knowing how to talk to a parent with dementia will help keep the connection you share as strong as possible for as long as possible.

    Navigating successful conversations with dementia patients takes trial and error, respect, and practice. It also helps to understand the dos and donts of asking and answering questions. Oh, and did I say patience? Youll need a lot of that.

    Ways To Talk To Someone With Dementia

    Whats worse than finding out your loved one has Alzheimers? Getting an Alzheimers diagnosis yourself. And the stigma and social isolation that comes with the disease is no help when the loneliness starts to set in, according to dementia patients.

    There is a big stigma. I think theres a fear of, How do I talk to that person?, said Pamela Roberts, 61, who has dementia. But Im still me, I can still hold a conversation, I can still recognize people and even when I cant, I still want to be talked to the same.

    Many support groups are aimed at caregivers, who do undergo a huge amount of stress. But Alzheimers patients themselves feel the effects of social isolation, which still persists despite efforts by support organizations, according to a survey of 2,300 people in the U.K.

    The survey offered some sad statistics: Over half of those surveyed were not confident speaking with dementia patients or inviting them to a meal in their home. If confronted with a confused person with dementia in a public space, two-thirds said they wouldnt know how to help them.

    But those people have the exact same concerns as dementia patients themselves when they were asked about how they would respond to a diagnosis. Almost half worried that they would be treated like a child and over a quarter said they worried their friends and family would no longer want to see them.

  • Ask: Dont be afraid to ask questions. Taking the time to understand dementia shows that you are an ally.
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    How Is Dementia Diagnosed

    There is no single test for dementia. To diagnose it, your doctor will:

    • Do a physical examination.
    • Ask questions about recent and past illnesses and life events. The doctor will want to talk to a close family member to check details.
    • Ask you to do some simple things that test your memory and other mental skills. Your doctor may ask you to tell what day and year it is, repeat a series of words, or draw a clock face.

    The doctor may do tests to look for a cause that can be treated. For example, you might have blood tests to check your thyroid or to look for an infection. You might also have a test that shows a picture of your brain, like an MRI or a CT scan. These tests can help your doctor find a tumour or brain injury.

    How To Share The Diagnosis

    How to Talk to Someone with Dementa

    Sharing the initial news of the diagnosis may come from any one of a number of people.

    The doctor or specialist, assessment team or members of the family may talk to the person about the diagnosis either individually or as a group.

    You might consider having someone present at the time of telling to provide extra support.

    Planning ahead about the best way to share the diagnosis will make it easier.

    As individual responses will be different, careful consideration must be given to every individual situation.

    There are some considerations that will be generally helpful when talking with a person about their diagnosis:

    • Ensure that the setting is quiet and without competing noise and distractions.
    • Speak slowly and directly to the person.
    • Give one message at a time.
    • Allow time for the person to absorb the information and to form questions. Information may need to be added later.
    • Written information about dementia can be helpful to take away and provides a helpful reference. Dementia Australia has information written specifically for people with dementia. In some instances this information is available in video or audio format. Contact the National Dementia Helpline on 1800 100 500.
    • Ensure that someone is available to support the person after being told about the diagnosis.

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    Step Into Their World

    A person with dementia might say something that is not true perhaps that they are leaving on a trip or that someone is on their way to pick them up.

    Hartford advises trying to validate the feeling behind the statement.

    You could say, I understand you are expecting a ride. Why dont you come with me and wait until your ride gets here? Hartford says. Step into their world and go along with them. The way their brain is changing, trying to explain why something is a certain way or not is not very fruitful.

    If your grandmother thinks you are her long dead cousin, for example, sometimes its better to go along with it. People with dementia can forget their relationships with their spouses and other family members.

    It can be emotionally challenging and really hard, Hartford says. But often it is not hard for the person with dementia.


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