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Talking to Someone With Dementia

Close-up of a smiling nurse holding a senior woman's handTalking with the person you love may be more difficult now that they have dementia. But that doesn’t make it impossible! Here are a few helpful tips to improve your conversations so that they become more enjoyable for both of you.

Body language – Stand or sit so you are both at eye level and they can see your body and facial expressions. Smile and make eye contact. This will help the person with dementia feel at ease, and therefore more likely to open up and chat, even if they don’t quite remember who you are.

Keep it simple – Don’t complicate the conversation with questions that might be tricky to answer or understand. For example, instead of saying ‘what would you like for lunch?’ try ‘Do you want a salad or a sandwich?’ Visual cues can be very helpful, so consider actually showing them the two options!

The power of touch – Touch is a powerful form of communication. Holding someone’s hand, for example, might tell them instantly that they are safe and you are someone they can trust. A pat on the shoulder can say ‘don’t worry,’ and convey a degree of warmth and closeness even better than words.

Use props – Photos or other sentimental items can be a great way to spark an enjoyable conversation about the past.

Patience is key – Conversations may take longer than they used to but that doesn’t mean you should rush them or talk over them if they’re grasping for words. Don’t let frustration get the better of you. Just smile, relax, speak more slowly and wait for them to finish what they’re saying. It isn’t necessary, or helpful, to quibble or correct any factual errors if they are smiling and enjoying the conversation.