How to Communicate with Someone who Suffers from Dementia

publication date: May 23, 2018
author/source: Chris Salter

dementiaWhen a family member or someone close to you is diagnosed with Dementia, it’s always difficult to know what to do or how to approach the situation. When the dementia progresses rapidly, the person tends to forget things more regularly as well as seeming uninterested and unable to participate in a flowing conversation.  It can always seem daunting when it comes to trying to communicate with a loved one who is suffering from this disease.

Here are my ten tips to help facilitate conversation:

1 Ensure you use eye contact with the person as this will make the feel at ease, you may also want to lower yourself to the persons level and talk to them at a distance, this is to avoid being intimidating.

2 Be patient and calm throughout, ensuring you allow the person plenty of time to respond. Don’t try and interrupt or complete their sentences as this can break the patter of communication and cause confusion.

3 Use things that may jog their memory such as photo albums, music or items they own to try and help them remember things which can help facilitate conversation and help them remember good memories in their life 

4 Try to stick to one idea at a time, asking easy one point questions. Try phrasing them in a way that allows for a simple "yes" or "no" answer, or alternatively, in a way that gives the person choice. 

5 Encourage them to join in conversations with others, sometimes social clubs can be very useful for this type of thing as it encourages them to get out and talk to people more regularly.

6 Speak clearly and slowly using shorter sentences.  

7 Don’t patronise a person suffering with Dementia, ensure you are patient and have respect for them at all times. Talking about the person as if they are not there or talking to them as you would a young child are definite no no’s.  

8 Try to get rid of any background noise or distractions such as a loud TV or radio, as noise in the background might make them more confused and they may lose their train of thought.  

9 Refer to their name and try to use it as much as possible.  

10 Don’t be afraid if there are any silences within the conversation – this can make some people feel awkward but dementia sufferers usually don’t notice this. Just try and be understanding and perhaps listen to music or watch a film together if the conversation is struggling.

Chris Salter is Group Support Manager at Forest Healthcare.