Simple tips for talking to someone with dementia

There are a few simple things you can do to better communicate with someone living with dementia. 

Dementia isn’t just about memory. It can also affect a person’s ability to reason, to process information, to communicate and to learn. We understand that communicating with someone living with dementia can sometimes be challenging and frustrating. So, here are some simple things you can do to help keep conversations with your loved ones flowing naturally. 

Professor Graham Stokes offers some words of advice on communicating with someone who has dementia. Watch:

  1. Speak slowly and distinctly, using clear and simple words.

  2. Remove all distractions when you're trying to communicate, like the TV or radio.

  3. Try to keep your conversations brief, as people who have dementia are likely to lose the thread of the conversation if you talk for too long.

  4. Stick to closed questions and make sure that all questions have a direct ‘yes’ or ‘no’ answer. For example, instead of asking “What would you like for lunch?” ask “Would you like a cheese sandwich?”

  5. Speak clearly, and use real names for people and objects where possible, instead of words like ‘it’, ‘she’ or ‘them’. For example, instead of asking “Do you like it?” ask “Do you like the cake?”

  6. Give your loved one time to respond to your questions and try not to get frustrated when they take longer than usual.

  7. Avoid finishing off their sentences for them. If you sense that they are struggling to find a word, consider the context of the conversation and ask a question that provides a helpful prompt. For example, if the person is saying “I want to go... I want to go” you could ask, “Do you want to go for a walk?”

  8. Face the person you are speaking to and refer to them by their name to ensure you have their full attention.

  9. Stick to one-to-one conversations when possible. If you can’t avoid a group situation, try to ensure only one person communicates at a time.

  10. Try not to directly contradict what the person says as this is likely to make them feel anxious and self-conscious. It is more productive to accept what they say as the truth and move on with the conversation.

  11. During conversations, never say “I’ve told you this before.” It’s important to remember that if the person starts repeating themselves or asking you the same question, it’s likely they have simply forgotten they have asked you before.

Bupa Aged Care

Bupa Aged Care, offers a full range of care including respite, residential and specialised dementia care.

Find out more

Remember that simple things can make a big difference when talking to people living with dementia. For more information on how to communicate with someone living with dementia, download the ‘Communicating and connecting’  booklet. If you're not sure whether or not a loved one has dementia, learn more about the different symptoms and signs of dementia.

Caring for a person who is ageing or experiencing the early signs of dementia can be really tough, physically and emotionally. 

If you want to talk to a real person who can help guide you and connect you with the right support, contact the Bupa Aged Care Support Line on 1800 780 038. It’s free and available to everyone - not just Bupa members.

The team of health care professionals can help with your questions about dementia, aged care homes, paying for care, and can connect you with other services.   

Read next:

The difference between dementia and Alzheimer's

Bupa aged care support line

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