Communication and Dementia

Helpful Hints

  • Be calm and patient
  • Face the person, speak clearly and slowly
  • Use short, simple sentences and say exactly what you mean
  • Try to get one idea across at a time
  • Allow plenty of time for the person to take in what you say and to reply
  • Use the names of the people you are talking about instead of ‘he’ or ‘she’. This will remind the person of who you are talking about
  • Use questions which ask for a simple answer

One of the main symptoms of dementia is memory loss.  Different parts of the brain are affected which impacts on different aspects of verbal communication.   Communication is a two way process, we respond to each other because we understand the rules of exchange.  This is not easy for a person with dementia, who may not be able to process language quickly or may not recognise speech patterns.   We therefore cannot expect a person with dementia to use the same rules of communication and we must adapt our own methods of communicating. 

Impaired verbal communication is immediately noticeable, and this can add to the stigma of dementia. Part of our role as Carers, Family and Friends, and Health and Social Care Professionals  is to reduce the stigma by supporting the person to communicate in other ways.  As word finding or remembering becomes more difficult for the person with dementia, the content of their verbal exchanges can become more limited.  Imagine if you were to lose the ability to say the right word or understand what was being said eg. when on holiday in a foreign country where you don’t speak the language.  You may feel frustrated, angry and look for help, or perhaps someone has to interpret for you.   You might respond by not speaking at all and withdrawing into yourself or avoiding situations where you have to communicate with people.

The East Dunbartonshire Dementia Network sought and were granted permission from Nicky Thomson, Good Morning Project Ltd and the North Dementia Forum to reproduce their 12 Helpful Hints to Help you Communicate with Someone with Dementia and the Alzheimer’s Society have a useful factsheet on Communicating.