3 Traps to Avoid When Talking to Someone With Dementia

1. Don't Ask Why

Consider dropping the word why from your vocabulary. Though it's tempting to ask someone with dementia questions such as, "Why did you do that?" or "Why don't you like your soup today? You liked it yesterday," he or she really has no idea what's causing particular behaviors. The disease has likely stolen the ability to reason or evaluate.

Why it backfires: You risk causing unnecessary anxiety by making your loved one feel like he or she is being "tested" -- and is failing.

2. Don't Shout

Some people have a natural tendency to raise their voices around the elderly. The trouble is, Alzheimer's and other dementias may affect many parts of the body, but the ears aren't among them.

Why it backfires: Raising your voice can startle someone who didn't pick up on other cues you were coming. Or it can be perceived as threatening and angry, even when you're just asking, "Do you want some coffee?"

3. Don't Answer the Same Question Over and Over

You can feel like you're aboard the merry-go-round if someone with dementia gets on a jag of asking, "What's your name?" "Where are you from?" "What time is it?" You want to be polite, but you can't be driven crazy, either.

Why it backfires: It's much more stimulating for your loved one if you shift to fresh topics. Try saying something likely to get a response, such as, "You must miss your childhood in Canada" (old memories last a long time) or "Tell me about your knitting" (an immediate interest).

Paula Spencer Scott

Paula Spencer Scott is the author of Surviving Alzheimer's: Practical Tips and Soul-Saving Wisdom for Caregivers and much of the Alzheimer's and caregiving content on Caring. See full bio