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Tips for communicating with someone living with dementia

Keep these tips in mind to help make it easier to communicate with someone living with dementia.

Chances are you’ve had an opportunity to talk with someone living with dementia at the grocery store, your place of work or even at home.

A person living with dementia may have challenges with understanding others as well as being understood.

It's important to keep these tips in mind to help make it easier to communicate:

Minimize distractions

Before you begin a conversation, turn off any background noise such as the radio or a running dishwasher. This may help the person living with dementia to focus. If you’re in a crowded public space, try to find a quieter area to communicate. It also helps if you stay still during your conversation so they can focus on you.

Keep communication clear

Speak slowly in a friendly tone and use short, simple sentences that focus on one idea at a time. When asking questions, try to use yes or no options, or questions that offer one choice: “Would you like to go on a walk now?” or “Would you like coffee?” If the person living with dementia repeats themselves or says something that is not accurate, avoid correcting them as this may lead to feelings of frustration and confusion.

Be aware of your body language

Calm and friendly body language such as eye contact and smiling may help the person living with dementia feel at ease. Try to avoid body language that indicates frustration or anger, such as crossed arms, rolling your eyes or letting out a loud sigh. You can also use gestures to help reinforce the message you’re trying to deliver, such as pointing at the thing you’re talking about.

Aim to be an active listener

Active listening means giving time for the person living with dementia to finish speaking. You might also want to nod your head, make eye contact or repeat back some of what you heard so the person knows you are listening.

Communication is more than words

For some people living with dementia, it may be difficult to get their message across. Listen and respond to the feelings of the person living with dementia, not just the words. Watch for cues such as facial expression, tone of voice and posture to help you understand and respond with care.

Learn more about dementia and find advice for caring for someone living with dementia here.