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How to Talk to Someone With Dementia

Person losing their memory

Talking to someone with dementia can be a daunting task. If you have ever interacted with someone with dementia, then you more than likely know about the repetitive questions, the trouble finding the right words, the losing a train of thought, or even the confusion that comes with the disease. This is usually neither the result of miscommunication nor misunderstanding, but rather the result of memory loss. 

There are specific strategies that caregivers, neighbors, and loved ones can use in order to have more successful communication between themselves and someone who suffers from dementia. 

What to Expect When You Talk to Someone With Dementia

It can be increasingly difficult for a person with dementia to communicate clearly, so it is important to be patient. Walking into this situation prepared with the right strategies can help foster a more fulfilling relationship with your neighbor or your loved one. Here are a few things to expect prior to your interaction:

  • Memory loss
  • Repetition of questions, sentences, or words
  • Difficulty describing things
  • Losing train of thought
  • Not speaking
  • Substitution of words
  • Aggressive behavior

The most important thing to remember is that the person living with dementia has no ill intent in their actions; he or she does not intentionally mean to frustrate you. To put it simply, your neighbor or your loved one have trouble remembering that story you were telling them about or that question they asked you before. Keep calm and try to remain in good spirits, because getting angry or annoyed can only make the situation worse.

Tips on How to Talk to Someone with Dementia

When you are talking to a loved one or a fellow resident who repeatedly asks the same questions, it can be difficult to remain calm and to remain patient. You might be asking yourself what you can do to better help the situation. 

Communication can get more difficult as the disease progresses, so it is perfectly acceptable to leave the room for a bit and get some space! If needed, consider asking for some help. No one expects you to be the sole support for your loved one or friend, you deserve assistance. Remember that this will pass. Whatever it is that they are currently fixated on, remember that it too will pass.

Here is a provided list of tips on how to talk to someone with dementia:

  • Limit your questions. It is important to encourage conversation rather than interrogation. Just have a regular conversation without diving into any real details.
  • Be patient. When talking to someone with dementia, sometimes it can seem as if they are saying the same thing over and over again. Be sure to take time to listen to them without interrupting.
  • Be respectful. Treat someone with dementia as you would anyone else. It is important to remember that they still have feelings and deserve your respect!
  • Keep it short. Make sure that you are using short sentences. As the disease progresses, more in-depth sentences can be more difficult to understand. For example, be sure to ask yes or no questions. 
  • Be present. To facilitate a more respectful conversation, make sure you are making eye contact and being very engaging during the conversation. Placing yourself at the same level as someone with dementia not only shows respect, it can help create a more comfortable conversation.
  • Nonverbal Communication. Remain relaxed and respectful. A gentle touch or holding of the hands can be comforting for your family member or friend.
  • Take a break. Take a break, you deserve it! Sometimes it can be difficult talking to someone with dementia, so be sure you step out of the room if you need to. Getting angry with them won’t do any good. To them, it’s the first and only time they’ve asked!