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How To Talk To People With Dementia

Always Keep In Mind And Treat Him As An Adult And Worthy Person

How to Talk to Someone With Dementia

A person with dementia is still an adult person. The treatment towards her must always respect their dignity and should be treated with respect .

Even if the person is not aware of where they are or with whom, they should be treated as adults and not infantilized. Likewise, they should not be spoken of as if they were not present, no matter how much they do not show any reaction to stimulation or language.

Think About How The Person May Be Feeling

Try to put yourself in their shoes or seat. What is their emotional state likely to be? Are they relaxed and happy or anxious and distressed? Are they calm or frightened? Are they likely to respond to humour or are they angry and frustrated? You may be aware of whats been happening to them prior to your conversation. If not, try to find out so you can think about your approach.

Who Is Judy Cornish

Judy Cornish is a former eldercare lawyer and the former owner of Palouse Dementia Care, a dementia care agency that provides in-home dementia care to seniors in northern Idaho. She is the author of Dementia With Dignity and The Dementia Handbook as well as the creator of the DAWN Method of dementia care. Judy believes that with a little training, families can provide excellent dementia care at home with less stress and more companionship.

Of course, we expect that, due to memory loss, people who have dementia will have trouble recalling what they did earlier in the day, let alone whats been happening during the past week. And, we know that how much they can remember will diminish as time goes on. At first, you may find that it helps to ask leading questions by including a fact or two . In the earlier stages of dementia, memories sometimes become available when we prompt with a few facts.

Read Also: 7th Stage Of Dementia

Play To Their Strengths

Sometimes memory loss is so devastating that we all forget that there is a person still in there somewhere. Family members can be distraught by what’s missing and forget that there’s still a lot there within the person, and that they have strengths.

They still have long-term memory, so its up to the caregiver and/or family member to find them. It’s interesting that, medically, doctors do tests on other conditions but when it comes to memory loss, it’s often looked at like a switch: Either they got it, or they don’t. Just like everything else, there’s a progression of memory loss, and its up to the caregiver and/or family member to find out where the patient and/or loved one is, and bolster that.

Strength #1: Long-term memory & stories

Everyone has a short-term memory drawer and long-term memory drawer, and we put information in each. People with dementia and/or Alzheimers have a short-term memory drawer that has no bottom. He/she puts things in, and then they get lost. The long-term memory drawer, however, has a solid bottom. Lots of stories that are retrievable await . Encourage your patients and/or loved ones to tell you stories. You can even use photos to encourage stories. Photos are wonderful long-term memory reminders.

Strength #2: Humor & music

Strength #3: Spirituality

Communicate At Eye Level With Limited Distractions

Tips For Talking To Someone With Dementia infographic

Looking down at someone can make them feel suspicious or anxious and can change the power dynamic, Hartford says. The aim is to level the playing field.

Were dealing typically with older adults who have changes in hearing, Hartford says. They may really rely on reading lips, talking face-to-face.

Also, limit distractions that people with dementia can have a hard time tuning out. A television, radio or air conditioning unit can be distracting. Get into a quiet space when you want to communicate.

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Find A Shared Activity

Another tactic to make these conversations more comfortable is to do something else at the same time youre talking. Depending on their stage of memory loss, your loved one might enjoy working on a puzzle, playing cards or looking through photo albums.

At later stages, your loved one might be beyond the point of having conversations. In these cases, it may make more sense to watch a favorite TV show or listen to some quiet music together during your visits. Bringing a book or having another activity with you to do while sitting with your loved one is often appropriate.

Dont Expect Them To Conform To Present

As strange as that may sound, learn how to enter into the patients/loved one’s world and not expect them to conform to our present day. As Diane Waugh, BSN, RN, CDP, says in the video above: When I had to deal with memory loss with my own mother, I found the hardest thing for me to do was to not try to drag her into my reality, but to go live where she was living, in her understanding.

Caregivers and/or family members should remember: give up expectations of the patient and/or loved one . Giving up expectations can make room for what the patient and/or loved one’s strengths are .

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Give One Instruction At A Time

Granted, this is sometimes easier said than done when life gets busy and youre in a rush!

Still, giving one instruction at a time can make communication much easier.

Multi-tasking is hard enough for adults without cognitive impairments, so you can imagine what it might be like for those living with dementia.

It may take your parent a while to get their words out, so hold back from asking further questions before theyre able to answer.

Repeating the question or rephrasing it slightly differently can help move the conversation along.

Try to give your loved one at least 20-30 seconds to respond.

Having A Conversation With Someone With Dementia


Communication is critical for everyone. There are two main forms of communication verbal and non-verbal . This feature focuses on the verbal form of communication and will provide you with some practical tips on how to help a person with dementia.

For information on non-verbal communication, see the feature in this section on Behaviour as a form of communication.

What we say should match how we say it the tone we use… and the faces that we pull while we are saying it.

For more on the importance of good communication, and from the point of view of people with dementia themselves, read the feature What other people can do to help me live well in the section Getting to know the person 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.

Be In The Room When They Talk To A Doctor

When youre trying to convince your parent to see a doctor about dementia, a specialist can be a tough sell for a skeptical parent. Karlawish noted that even his organizations name alone The Penn Memory Center can set off alarm bells. Your mom or dad is more likely to find talking to their regular doctor about possible symptoms less daunting. But, per Karlawish, they shouldnt talk to the doctor by themselves. You need to be present to ask questions and hear the doctor. The next most ineffective visit short of no visit is they go in on their own, Karlawish said.

Also Check: What Is The Difference Between Dementia And Senility

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.

Dont Speak In Slang Or Metaphors

Talking to People with Dementia

Speaking plainly and directly will help someone living with dementia to follow a conversation more easily. Using modern slang words can cause confusion, as their brain may have regressed to an earlier time of their life where such words didnt exist, leading to even less understanding and more additional distress. If the person grew up speaking a language that they didnt use in later life they may well have begun communicating in that language again, which can be difficult for family or carers who may not speak it too.

If thats the case, see if you can use a translation programme on a phone, or even better, perhaps there is someone in the neighbourhood who speaks the language and could help? Be wary about bringing people they dont know into the home though, as this in itself can heighten distress levels and anxiety in some cases. If in doubt, talk to one of the persons multi-agency team, such as the Admiral nurse, GP, or a charity such as Alzheimers Society. Helping Hands also has a team of dementia experts in the company, so speak to the local manager for advice any time you need it.

Also Check: How Fast Does Dementia Progress

A Quick Note Before You Go

Does your parent face challenges with any of the following?

We realize that communication is just one of the challenges that people living with dementia can experience. Difficulties with personal care, incontinence, and nutrition are also possible.

Our aim is to support you by researching the highest-quality home health products and make them simple to browse all on one site.

For this reason, the motto at is Caregiving Starts Here.

Feel free to click on any of the links above to take a look at products in the respective categories.

Heres an example from each category, to give you a better idea of the kind of products that are on offer:

Slipper socks with bottoms that grip and a premium-quality terry cloth.

These comfy socks are highly elastic with a soft, breathable poly/nylon knit and loops on the inside. Perfect for those who want a secure fit without being constrictive.

A creamy, nutritionally-balanced pudding cup with 7 grams of protein.

The pudding offers nutritional support for those with fluid restriction, dysphagia, or malnutrition. Its also gluten-free, kosher, low-residue, and suitable for lactose intolerance.

An absorbent incontinence product that looks like real underwear. These pull-ups are easy to slide up the legs and are made of a breathable, soft fabric.

Whats more, the Peach Mat Core keeps skin dry, prevents bacteria growth, and stops odors.

Multi-fold hand towels made from sustainable ingredients.

How To Talk To A Person With Dementia

There are a lot of different dementias, which can affect different abilities. In many cases it ends up presenting a deterioration in the ability to attend, remember, retain or even understand and processing what they are told can make it complex to treat and even evaluate them. That is why below we offer a series of indications that may be useful when treating a patient of these characteristics.

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How To Deal With Dementia Behavior Problems

  • How to Deal with Dementia Behavior Problems: 19 Dos and Donts

Dementia is a disease that affects millions of people across the globe every year. It is often a highly misunderstood condition that is marred by numerous misconceptions, which make the condition difficult to understand and study.

You should know that dementia is not a name for an illness, rather it is a collective term that describes a broad range of symptoms that relate to declining of thinking, memory, and cognitive skills. These symptoms have deteriorating effects that usually affect how a patient acts and engages in the day-to-day activities.

In advanced dementia stages, affected persons may experience symptoms that bring out a decline in rational thought, intellect, social skills, memory, and normal emotional reactivity. It is something that can make them powerless when it comes to living normal, healthy lives.

Relatives, caregivers, spouses, siblings, children and anyone close to a person who has dementia need to know how to deal with behavioral problems that surface because of the illness. Examples of dementia problems may include aggressiveness, violence and oppositional behaviors. Find out some of the vital Do and Donts when dealing with a dementia patient.

Paranoia Delusion And Hallucinations

How to Talk to Someone with Dementia

Distortions of reality, such as paranoia, delusions, and hallucinations, can be another result of the disease process in dementia. Not everyone with dementia develops these symptoms, but they can make dementia much more difficult to handle.

Lewy body dementia, in particular, increases the likelihood of delusions and hallucinations, although they can occur in all types of dementia.

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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 dayor 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.

Do Not Engage In Arguments

One of the worst things a person can do to an individual who has dementia is to start an argument or even force them to do something that makes them upset or angry. When the discussion or argument is too heated, it may be better to walk away to create an environment where everyone can remain calm. Experts agree that one of the ways that can yield results when it comes to dementia behavior problems is to get rid of the word no when dealing with patients. Avoid forcibly restraining a dementia sufferer at all costs.

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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.

Try Diverting The Conversation

Pin on SeniorTalk

Keep a photograph album handy. Sometimes looking at pictures from their past and being given the chance to reminisce will ease feelings of anxiety. It might be best to avoid asking questions about the picture or the past, instead trying to make comments: ‘That looks like Uncle Fred. Granny told me about the time he….’

Alternatively, you could try diverting them with food, music, or other activities, such as a walk.

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How The Disease Affects The Brain

Physiologically, dementia and/or Alzheimers affects various parts of the brain, specifically, it affects the brain in such a way that people have a difficult time learning new information. This is why, for a long time into the disease, patients and/or loved ones can remember things that happened a long time ago. They can remember wedding dates, the war they fought in, where they went to high schoolbut they can’t remember the visit that they had with their daughter yesterday. This is because the disease affects certain parts of the brainthe temporal lobeswhich are responsible for helping us learn new things.

The reason theyre able to hold onto the memories that happened a long time ago is that those memories are represented throughout the brain. Long-term memories don’t require just one or two areas of the brainthey’re probably represented in multiple systemsso the disease has to be quite advanced before patients and/or loved ones start losing those memories.

In the brain of someone with dementia and/or Alzheimer’s, there are actual holes in the brain that form. In an image of an Alzheimer’s brain, one can see where many of the brain cells have diedand it affects every area of the brain.

Helping A Person Who Is Aware Of Memory Loss

Alzheimers disease is being diagnosed at earlier stages. This means that many people are aware of how the disease is affecting their memory. Here are tips on how to help someone who knows that he or she has memory problems:

  • Take time to listen. The person may want to talk about the changes he or she is noticing.
  • Be as sensitive as you can. Don’t just correct the person every time he or she forgets something or says something odd. Try to understand that it’s a struggle for the person to communicate.
  • Be patient when someone with Alzheimer’s disease has trouble finding the right words or putting feelings into words.
  • Help the person find words to express thoughts and feelings. But be careful not to put words in the persons mouth or fill in the blanks too quickly. For example, Mrs. D cried after forgetting her garden club meeting. She finally said, “I wish they stopped.” Her daughter said, “You wish your friends had stopped by for you.” Mrs. D nodded and repeated some of the words. Then Mrs. D said, “I want to go.” Her daughter said, “You want to go to the garden club meeting.” Again, Mrs. D nodded and repeated the words.
  • Be aware of nonverbal communication. As people lose the ability to talk clearly, they may rely on other ways to communicate their thoughts and feelings. For example, their facial expressions may show sadness, anger, or frustration. Grasping at their undergarments may tell you they need to use the bathroom.

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