Communicating with a person living with a dementia

By communicating well with a person living with a dementia, you can help increase their understanding and wellbeing.

Encouraging someone with a dementia to communicate 

Dementia is a progressive condition that, over time, will affect a person's ability to remember and understand basic everyday facts, such as names, dates and places. 

To help encourage a person with a dementia to communicate, you should try to begin conversations with the person.

Ways to do this include:

  • speaking clearly and slowly, using short sentences
  • making eye contact with the person when they're talking, asking questions or having other conversations
  • giving them time to respond, because they may feel pressured if you try to speed up their answers
  • encouraging them to join in conversations with others, where possible
  • letting them speak for themselves during discussions about their welfare or health issues, as they may not speak up for themselves in other situations
  • trying not patronise them, or ridiculing what they say

Coronavirus (COVID-19): communication aids for people with dementia

Aphasia Friendly has created conversation topic cards which can be used to help communicate with people who have dementia about coronavirus.

Communicating through body language and physical contact 

Body language and physical contact become significant when speech is difficult for a person with a dementia.

Key ways to help communication when someone has difficulty speaking or understanding include:

  • being patient and remaining calm, which can help the person communicate more easily
  • keeping your tone of voice positive and friendly, where possible
  • talking to them at a respectful distance to avoid intimidating them – being at the same level or lower than they are – for example, if they are sitting – can also help
  • patting or holding the person's hand while talking to them can reassure them and make you feel closer – watch their body language and listen to what they say to see whether they're comfortable with you doing this

It's important that you encourage the person to communicate what they want, however they can.

Listening to and understanding someone with a dementia 

Communication is a two-way process. If you are a carer of someone with dementia, you will probably have to learn to ‘listen’ more carefully.

Active listening can help to improve communication between you and the person you're caring for.

Active listening includes:

  • using eye contact to look at the person, and encouraging them to look at you when either of you are talking
  • trying not to interrupt them, even if you think you know what they're saying
  • stopping what you're doing so you can give the person your full attention while they speak
  • minimising distractions that may get in the way of communication, such as the television or the radio playing too loudly, but always check if it's OK to do so
  • repeating what you heard back to the person and asking if it's accurate, or asking them to repeat what they said

Find out more about communicating with people with dementia on the NHS website.

Where to find help and support

You can find more information and support services from the following organisations, see also ‘more useful links section’:

The Public Health Agency has also produced a range of information to help support people with a dementia, their families and friends.

This information includes the following publications:

Dementia apps library

The ‘Apps4Dementia’ library is a digital service which groups together safe, trusted apps to provide information and guidance on the condition.

There a number of apps that offer support, self-care of symptoms and enable users to carry on with their day-to-day activities for as long as possible.

More useful links

The information on this page has been adapted from original content from the NHS website.

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