How to communicate with someone who has Dementia

dementia caregivers
dementia caregivers
(Image credit: Rex Features (Shutterstock))

When 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.

In fact, new research from the Alzheimer's Society has revealed that a huge majority of the general public find it difficult to know how to communicate with those living with dementia.

MORE: Could loneliness contribute to dementia?

According to new data surveying 2,300 adults, 50% of people reported not feeling confident even visiting someone with dementia in a care home or inviting them to a meal at home. And over two-thirds of those asked, 69%, said they wouldn’t feel confident in knowing how to help someone with dementia if they saw them struggling in a public place.

So it's clear that if you're finding it tricky to talk to a loved one with dementia, you're certainly not alone. But in fact, there are effective ways to handle it.

Alzheimer's Society have offered up their tips for communicating with someone living with any form of dementia. To mark Dementia Action week this week (21st - 27th May), they spoke to 500 people who have the disease. They shared that just a few simple things could help communication, and in turn, help to reduce the isolation dementia patients can often feel.

In the words of a person living with dementia, Alzheimer's Society have shared tips for communicating effectively...

  • Talk to me. Don’t be worried about talking to me. I’m still me.
  • Listen to me. Take time to listen and involve me in the conversation. I can still teach you a thing or two.
  • Include me. Keep on inviting me out. Friends still mean the world to me.
  • Ask if I need help. If I seem confused, ask if I need help. These little things help me stay independent.
  • Be patient. Be patient with me and I’ll show you how I can still do things. It just might take me longer than it used to.
  • Ask me about my dementia. Don’t be afraid to ask me questions. When you take the time to understand my dementia, I know there’s someone on my side.
  • Help my carer too. Support my partner and others who care for me. My dementia affects them too.

Group Support Manager at Forest Healthcare, Chris Salter has also offered some helpful, day-to-day tips for communication with people who have dementia. These are practical, simple ways, in which you can help improve how someone with dementia views the world, and copes with their illness.

Chris' 10 tips for communication with dementia patients...

1. Ensure you use eye contact with the person, you may also want to lower yourself to the persons level and talk to them at a distance, this is to avoid being intimidating. Also ensure you keep your tone positive.

2. Be patient and calm and although it may be difficult, try not to interrupt the person. Don’t try and complete their sentences for them as this may anger them.

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. Ask easy and one point questions. Many times in conversations the questions we ask can seem complicated and have more than one point to them. Try to keep it easy and ask one line questions so they have time to think and to answer.

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

6. Speak clearly and slowly using small sentences.

7. Don’t patronise the person suffering with Dementia. If they suddenly go off-topic and change the entire course of conversation, just go along with it and seem interested.

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 together if the conversation is struggling.