How to communicate with someone who has dementia

How to talk to someone with dementia.

All of us enjoy connecting with people in a meaningful way. When talking with someone who has dementia, try talking with them as you would anyone else. Watch for cues that they are having trouble following the conversation and ask if there is anything that you can do to make it easier for them. If it is obvious that the person is struggling to follow and participate in the conversation, try some of the following approaches:

  • Speak slowly and calmly.
  • Use short, simple sentences.
  • Ask “yes” and “no” questions.
  • Ask a single question at a time and leave lots of time for answers.
  • Listen carefully to what the person is saying and observe both verbal and non-verbal communications.

Learn more about caring for someone with dementia.

How to act around someone with dementia

There are helpful ways to interact with someone who has dementia. If the person seems to have trouble understanding, initiating or following through on the conversation or activity, these tips may help:

  • Approach the person from the front. Approaching from the back can be startling.
  • Never stand too close or stand over someone to communicate. Instead, respect the person’s personal space and drop to their eye level.
  • Identify yourself and explain why you’ve approached them.
  • Maintain good eye contact.
  • Avoid confrontation.
  • Avoid correcting or providing “reality checks.”

Use actions as well as words. Use body movements such as pointing to help the person understand what you are saying (e.g. getting the person’s coat and indicating the way outside).

Dementia and communication

Changes in the ability to communicate are unique to each person with dementia. Someone living with the disease may have trouble finding a word or may create new words, repeat a word or phrase, have difficulty organizing words logically, swear inappropriately, revert to a first language or talk less than they normally might.

Seeing the person, not the disease

A person-centred philosophy views people dealing with dementia first and foremost as individuals with unique values, personal history and personality. Each person has the right to dignity and respect, and to participate fully in their environment.

When we look at someone with dementia as an individual, communication becomes easier and their lives become richer. This means learning about dementia, believing that communication is possible, focusing on the person’s skills and abilities, reassuring the person, staying positive, connecting with them in a way that reflects their interests and personality and accepting their current view of reality. Like all of us, the quality of life for someone with dementia is greatly dependent on how well they connect with others.

Being a Dementia Friend means making – and keeping – that connection strong.

Understand the behaviour of those living with dementia.

Dementia support near you

Your local Alzheimer Society is a valuable resource for programs, services, referrals and support. Get in touch with your local society today.

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