How to Talk to Someone With Dementia: New Insights


Last updated: July 26, 2008
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People with dementia remember more than it may appear, says a small but interesting new study from the UK's University of Dundee. All knowledge isn't lost forever, as it may appear when the person is asked something and blanks on a correct response. That knowledge may be retrieved if the person is asked questions in the right way. The researchers found that when subjects were asked the meaning of words, they often couldn't say. But when the same information was asked in different ways, with more context, they often did remember.

Some related tips on how to talk to someone with dementia to boost their understanding:

  • Be as clear and specific as possible.

Instead of: "Do you remember Mary?"

Try: "Here's Mary, your cousin. She used to live next-door to you in Chicago."

Instead of: "What do you want for lunch?"

Try: "Do you want to eat a turkey sandwich?"

  • Use short sentences. Give one instruction at a time.

Instead of: "I got your bath ready so you can get cleaned up and get some fresh clothes on."

Try, "Let's go have a bath."

  • Speak slowly and wait for nonverbal responses.

Instead of an immediate reply, the person may indicate he understands if you wait and watch his body language. In a recent blog full of excellent late-stage dementia communication tips, Caring.com's Family Advisor Carol O'Dell talked about when her mom in the late stage would only wink.

In addition, Caring.com offers tips on talking to someone with earlier-stage Alzheimer's.

Image by Flickr user Mariano Kamp, used under the Creative Commons attribution license.

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10 Comments So Far. Add Your Wisdom.

8 months ago

Lately my mother who is 84 yrs has been becoming more confused and has lost all interest in things. She also has Parkinson's and her hands shake really bad. Does anyone have any suggestions? All she feels like doing is sleeping the day away except for eating and going to bathroom every 1/2 hour. I try to get her involved in something but she just starts crying she is too sleepy. Should I just let her be?


about 1 year ago

i am the only daughter and the youngest child. My mother is a widow and she is 85 yrs. old and I am her caretaker although she still lives alone. We have always been extremely close and have actually been best friends. During the past few months she has began to find fault with me in various ways, even criticize me because my hair is no longer in curls as it was in my teenage years. My husband has been very good about doing things around her house since my dad died 31 years ago and she has always praised him for being such a good son-in-law. It seems that because since we decided recently to change churches (we still go to the church I was raised in from birth) she has become angry and seems to be turning on us and making ugly comments to others about us. It has broken my heart and has also embarrassed me because my husband is a great person and helps her in so many ways. I'm just wondering what has happened to her mentally that is making her turn on us. We continue to love her and take care of her every need as much as possible while we both have jobs. I suggested making an appointment with her doctor but she said she doesn't like her doctor and she's not going back. Her doctor gave her a mild dose of a medication for dementia and also a mild sleeping pill recently following the death of her son (my brother) 5 months ago. She started taking the medication and broke out in a rash all over her body so she stopped taking it and told her doctor she won't take it again. Any idea or suggestion? Thank you.


about 1 year ago

I found the suggestion of using another health complaint to be most helpful. My domestic partner does not want to see our family doctor, nor be further evaluated for the moderate stage of dementia that he is in. I've been emailing our family doctor to keep him abreast of the issues at hand, and with flu shots coming in we will use that as an excuse to touch base. He is 84 today, and we've been referred to several geriactric psychiatrists. I'm not sure I'll be able to get him to agree to see any of the three geriatric specialists. He's suspicious of people he doesn't know, somewhat paranoid, and thank God has good-natured behaviors thus far. It's also a lose/lose situation to argue, and he forgets what we've talked about within minutes of the issue, so it's much less stressful to just redirect.


over 1 year ago

I just completed reading the articles about "How to talk with someone that has dementia" I noticed the date, but even though the articles are written several years ago it all applies today. I try hard to do many of the things suggested and it certainly is easier on my DH. Now to educate other people on how to converse with one that has dememtia. Some of our friends know the stratigies, and it makes for an enjoyable time for DH. Common sense suggestions and ideas are worth their weight in gold. Thank you Ms Scott. More articles like this would be great or update these with any latest material.


over 2 years ago

Hmmm, while not totally related, this reminds me of an acronym: "W.A.I.T." which stands for "Why Am I Talking?". Sometimes I find myself trying to explain far too much for my DH--forgetting that his mind cannot handle all the info. So, if I "wait" and often take a deep breath, I can back off and simplify what I'm saying.


over 2 years ago

Hello 'Paddycakes', That is a great question! Caring.com has a vibrant online support group of Alzheimer's and Dementia caregivers that discuss caregiving topics related to taking care of a loved one with Dementia/Alzheimer's. You can see a sample of the conversations that are happening and get started here: http://www.caring.com/alzheimers-support Hope this helps!


over 2 years ago

is there a support group in Vista, ca.??????????


about 3 years ago

My husband not only has severe dementia but he is also almost completely deaf. These tips were helpful to me. Using short sentences and also just giving one command at a time is something I will be careful to do. This is a very hard journey! I appreciate all the good information gleaned from this website. Thank you.


about 4 years ago

my father has allways been strict but now he suffers dementia i cant stand how he treats my mother i went there to help with his situation because i am the only one in my family who can because i dont have a family of my own nor married but it has been 2 years since i came here but i cant do it anymore i need help what i fear for my mother she is not very heathy person this is causing her so much stress please tell me what i should do


about 6 years ago

These suggestions are right on. I interact with dementia folks daily using these strategies. Another concept that is extremely important is not to argue with the person who have Alzheimer's or a related dementia, no matter how tempted you are to do so because everyone loses. A better strategy is to refocus and redirect the dementia persons'attention by Susan Berg author of Adorable Photographs of Our Baby-Meaningful Mind Stimulating Activities and More for the Memory Challenged, Their Loved Ones and Involved Professionals a book for those with dementia and an excellent resource for caregivers and healthcare professionals http://www.alzheimersideas.com http://blog.seattlepi.nwsource.com/dementiacare/ http://dementiaviews.blogspot.com http://activitiesdirector.blogspot.com http://dementiatips.blogspot.com


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