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

over 2 years, said...

Good advise. I need to get better at short answers to "why" questions from my Mom. More ideas on "shift to" topics appreciated. I have gotten better at not asking for recent information - like "what did you have for lunch".

about 3 years, said...

Good advise but not when my Mom is accusing me of steeling from her. All the efforts to show her the facts are not understandable to her. Frustrating ?

about 3 years, said...


almost 5 years, said...

I've been using the "why" word and it frustrates my husband AND me because there IS no logical explanation. It's not ABOUT logic, it's the disease. So you have given me useful explanations and information that, if implemented, have a high potential for de-fusing tension between us.

almost 5 years, said...

thank you so much! my aunt has dementia (Alzheimer's has not yet been confirmed, but i have lived with it before...) and my husband and i have been living on the merry-go-round of repetitive questioning...thinking that to be answered was important to her.

almost 6 years, said...

I find my self doing all 3 at times.

over 6 years, said...

I hadn't realized that answering the same question over again could create an issue - comforting to know that the topic can just be changed and we can move on

over 6 years, said...

Thank you anonymous caregiver! We're thrilled to hear it. While on Facebook, we hope you'll also join us in conversations on our fan page: http://www.facebook.com/caringcom Let us know if there's more we can do to support you too. Thanks!

over 6 years, said...

Have I told you lately how much I learn from your web site and how much I appreciate all the info I get from it? I am constantly "sharing" your articles with my Friends on Face Book, and thank you for the service and advice you bring!