How to Communicate Effectively with Someone with Dementia

How to Communicate Effectively with Someone with Dementia

The two primary symptoms of dementia are memory problems and communication difficulties. This can make holding a conversation with someone with dementia a struggle and a daunting concept. However, it is vital to endeavour to adapt your communication so that you can communicate effectively. This can not only help alleviate the dementia sufferer’s anxiety but to also help to achieve a greater sense of wellbeing.

Preparing for a conversation with someone with dementia

Much of successful communication with anyone is about the environment and atmosphere surrounding the communication. This is especially true when trying to communicate effectively with someone who has dementia.

We recommend that you choose somewhere to chat that is conducive to a positive conversation. Many people with dementia also suffer some degree of hearing loss or eyesight difficulties. Therefore, do bear this in mind. Somewhere well lit, quiet and away from distractions would be the ideal place.

Always position yourself with the light on your face, at the same level as the other person, and close enough that they can hear you. Choose a time of day when the individual is more likely to be alert and relaxed.

Your manner

Dementia is frequently associated with heightened anxiety. Awareness of memory and communication difficulties can lead to the individual feeling bewildered, ‘on the spot’ and confused. Therefore, keep your own manner calm and at ease. Make sure that you have plenty of time available, and can offer a relaxed opportunity for the conversation.

Prepare yourself

If you are chatting with a loved one with dementia, this can sometimes prove to be upsetting. However, by showing your concern and worry, you can inadvertently cause the dementia sufferer to also become concerned and worried. Try to prepare yourself in advance so that the chat can be positive and beneficial for you both.

A good way of preparing yourself is to have thought of some subjects to talk about before you begin. It can be useful to concentrate on things in the immediate environment for conversation topics, or take a trip a long way down memory lane.

When speaking

When you speak, do so clearly and slowly. Try to use short sentences and avoid raising your voice sharply. Take frequent pauses to allow the other person time to think about what you have said and process their response. You will need to adapt your usual style of conversation to allow processing time.

It is particularly important to avoid too many questions. Instead, impart information as well as expecting answers. Always allow time for the answer from one question before you jump into the next.

Use the individual’s name and also repeatedly use the names of the people you are talking about. It may feel unnatural to keep using a name instead of pronouns, but this can really help the individual to stay on track with the conversation.

It can be difficult, particularly if you are feeling frustrated or rushed, but try to talk on an adult-level and avoid patronising. Don’t talk over them or to others in the room without involving them.

Try to be consistent and exhaust one topic before moving to another. Remember that you are likely used to jumping about in conversation from one area to another. This will be hard for a dementia sufferer to follow. The result can be that they become overwhelmed and confused. Therefore, stay on one idea at a time without complicating it.

If the person you are talking to is struggling to respond or understand you, firstly give them time. If this doesn’t work, then don’t simply repeat what you said. Think of a slightly different way to rephrase it which may tap into their understanding. Try not to contradict yourself, or them.

Keep the conversation short. If they are becoming tired, less communicative or frustrated, it will be best to stop and try for more frequent but shorter conversations if you can.


A very important part of undertaking a conversation with someone with dementia will be your listening skills. Encourage them carefully, without patronising them, and listen carefully to what they say and their general demeanour.

Try to look for clues into understanding what they are trying to say. Try not to get frustrated, but instead ask them to try explaining what they want to say in a different way. Sometimes difficulty finding just one word can prevent them from attempting a whole sentence.

If they are showing signs of emotion, such as sadness or anger, validate their feelings. Try not to brush them away, but acknowledge how they must be feeling. Try not to correct everything they say. They may make mistakes, but highlighting too many can cause notable distress and further confusion.

Try to look beyond the spoken words alone. Look at their body language, facial expressions and tone. They too are likely to understand more from your body language than your words. Your physical presence can be calming and provide reassurance, even when few words pass between you. Respect their personal space, but also realise that sometimes the touch of a hand, or an embrace, can be more powerful communication than words alone.

Keep trying

Dementia symptoms can vary from day-to-day. Just because one day a conversation has been frustrating or impossible, doesn’t mean you should abandon future attempts. Persevere and know that you are making a positive difference simply by being ‘there’. Be patient, and be kind; you are helping.

Caring for someone with dementia can be stressful for loved ones. It can be bewildering and leave you upset that conversations are now hard work. Don’t give up. Find out more about how specialist dementia care can help, allowing you to focus on reminiscing and chatting with your loved one, by calling us on 01769 573166.