Tips for communicating with someone with dementia

22 Dec, 2020

Dementia is a difficult and complex condition and everyone’s experience of it is very different. The one thing everyone has in common is they face similar challenges when it comes to the challenges they face communicating with a person with dementia.

Small changes are often all that is needed to make a big difference and avoid frustration and difficulties. This can be the key to building and maintaining good and healthy relationships.

By understanding the difficulties that a person who has dementia lives with every day you may be able to see what the challenges are.

Living with dementia

Challenges may include:

  • They may find it hard to pronounce or find the right words
  • They may be having trouble following a conversation, especially in a noisy environment
  • They may be struggling to understand humour or sarcasm
  • They may be having difficulty recognising other people’s emotions or behaviours
  • They may repeat themselves due to reduced concentration or memory problems
  • Tiredness or ill health can cause a fluctuation in concentration and communication abilities
  • They may become stressed or destressed trying to make sense of unfamiliar environment, situations, and people

Good communication skills

We have become very good at multitasking, but it is actually not good when we are communicating! We communicate a lot through body language, one of voice and facial expressions.

If we look down at our phones, keep our voice at a monotone and don’t make eye contact most people will not enjoy having a conversation with us and feel that we are resentful of the time we have spent with them. However, if we look at people’s faces, smile, and engage in the conversation with confidence, people feel happier and secure that we want to be in their company.

Things to try:

  • Turn off any distractions and focusing on the person
  • Give information in small chunks
  • Keep it short and not too many people at once
  • Say their name when you’re speaking to them
  • Use soft tones, if you need to raise your voice because of hearing issues make sure it isn’t sharp. It isn’t their fault that they can’t hear you.
  • Try to let them know that you are listening by smiling and nodding when they are speaking.
  • Speak slowly, clearly and in short sentences
  • Give them plenty of time to answer questions and chat, sometimes they are searching for the right word, don’t try to fill every silence.
  • Maintain appropriate eye contact
  • You could use gestures to act out what you’re saying eg, mimicking drinking a cup of tea or putting on your shoes
  • You could use photos show who you are talking about.
  • Use simple and straightforward language
  • Avoid too many open-ended questions
  • Avoid offering too many choices

Communication is complex, some of these suggestions may work for some people and not for others.  People living with dementia can often understand far more than they can express, so always involve them in communication, using some of our hints and tips.