12 Helpful Communication Tips When Talking With Someone Living With Dementia
Updated: 7 days ago
Welcome to The Memory Compass. We are your family's personal memory loss navigator! We are a private practice dedicated to serving individuals living with a dementia diagnosis, along with their families and care partners.
There are currently over 55 million individuals living with dementia worldwide, and part of our mission is to help break the stigma associated with dementia and memory loss. We hope these helpful communication tips below allow you to better connect with someone facing memory loss.
Helpful Tips for Communication Partners:
Communicate face to face and at eye level. It is very helpful to be face to face during conversations with individuals who have a memory impairment. This allows the individual to hear spoken words more clearly. Additionally, facial expressions and gestures provide more stimuli and input for the individual.
Slow down! During communication exchanges, it is important to know that individuals with dementia can take anywhere from 10 – 30 seconds (and sometimes longer) to process information. Therefore, it can be helpful to provide a 1-step direction and allow time for processing before providing the next direction.
Use closed ended questions. For example, you should ask “Do you want chicken or steak for dinner” instead of “what would you like for dinner?". Also, instead of asking "What do you want to wear today?" you should ask, "Would you like to wear the blue shirt or the white shirt?" and hold both shirts up in line of sight. Narrowing down options will help decrease confusion while still promoting preferences.
Clearly introduce yourself when talking. When calling or visiting, you could say for example, “Hi John! This is your son, Mike. I just wanted to call to talk to you today.” This sets a conversation up for success since it allows the individual to potentially avoid any anxiety or frustration associated with trying to figure out who they are speaking with.
Never say “Remember". "Remember we talked about this earlier?” can be frustrating or discouraging to the individual. Taking the word “remember” out is perceived in a much better light!
Plan ahead and present requests in a friendly tone. Individuals with memory loss often do not like to be told to do something. For example, if you say, “John, you really need to take a shower. You haven’t had one in days,” it could come off as harsh. Instead, say, “Let’s go into the bathroom,” and already have the bathroom ready to go for a nice shower. This same example can be used for changing clothes, taking medications, among other activities.
If conflict occurs, try not to take it personally. An individual with dementia does not have the same “filter” that an individual without dementia has. The “fight or flight” response is more exposed and is constantly getting triggered.
Help your loved one "talk around" words. If your loved one cannot think of the word they are trying to say, try helping them retrieve the word by saying something like “What can you tell me about it?” If it is an object, you could say, "Tell me what it looks like." If you know what they are trying to say, it is usually best to fill it in for them. However, be sure to ask them their preference when doing this, and do not assume it is ok to speak for them.
Avoid open-ended questions that quiz your loved one. Questions like “Do you remember our wedding anniversary?” or “Do you know who is in this picture?” or “Do you know what day it is?” can put your loved one on the defensive. To set conversations up for success, provide information like this to your loved one. Also, you can make your loved one feel comfortable in the conversation and decrease anxiety or frustration by avoiding questions they do not know the answers to.
Regularly remind your loved one of important information. It is best to not assume that they remember what you told them the day before, or even what you told them earlier in the day. Repeat this information regularly to remind them of important topics or appointments. For example, even if you've discussed a doctor appointment earlier in the day, when it is time to go, you should say, “It's time to get ready for your appointment. We are going to see your eye doctor, Dr. Smith."
Never argue or disagree. Instead, join in their reality and validate their feelings. We know this is not easy, but the brain is changing and we cannot attempt to reason with someone who has lost the tools to reason.
Reminisce! Typically, individuals living with dementia have more success when recalling information from their past. We know that sometimes visiting an individual with memory loss may feel uncomfortable for the communication partner, because they are not sure what to talk about. We recommend having a list of favorite topics or memories for these occasions. Having a basket with memories listed out on separate index cards can be a great way to spark a memory and kick off a conversation. Reminiscing also does not have to only include stories. It can also engage the senses and include objects, scents, flavors, or music. Have fun!
By: Jessie Hillock, M.A. CCC-SLP, CDP
Owner at The Memory Compass, LLC
Dementia Care Specialist
Certified Dementia Practitioner
Memory Loss & Dementia Navigation | Cognitive Wellness | Consulting
Jessie works with families facing memory impairment across the United States as the owner and founder of The Memory Compass. She has a background in speech-language pathology, is a certified dementia practitioner, consultant, and dementia family coach with areas of speciality in mild cognitive impairment, dementia, Alzheimer's disease and other neurodegenerative disorders. Jessie also co-leads the Central Indiana Daughterhood Circle. If you are interested in learning more about Jessie's work supporting individuals and families living with memory loss, click here. If you are interested in scheduling a free consultation or meeting with Jessie, click the button below.
Are You Interested In Learning How Your Business Can Become More Dementia Friendly?
Are you a business owner or employee in Indiana and you are interested in learning how your business or place of employment can become a more dementia friendly environment? Learn how you can become a Dementia Friend here.
Click here if you live outside of Indiana.