Don't Say This! Phrases That Can Stress out Someone With Dementia

Not to make you self-conscious, but are you speaking to your loved one in ways that inadvertently add stress? We often ask one another questions in normal conversation that, to someone with early mild-stage dementia, can feel as threatening and anxiety-producing as a test.

Some examples:

"Do you remember the time. . . ?"

No, your loved one many not remember that at all. And unlike a healthy listener, the person with early dementia may be hyper-aware of having lapses and grappling with memory slippage.

"What was the name of that actress we saw. . . ?"

A casual trivia question may be perceived as a quiz.

"Can you tell me how to. . . ?"

Innocent phrases like these are stressful if the person is unable to describe or demonstrate a sequence of instructions.

What works better: Try to screen your questions mentally and rephrase them before you say them aloud. It may feel like you're bending over backward not to offend. In fact, you're simply trying to avoid situations that add to a sense of confusion, deficiency, or lapse. In a way, it's basic etiquette -- keeping the other person's comfort paramount -- with a dementia twist.


10 months ago, said...

Please give some sample "scripts" to use...


over 2 years ago, said...

It is much better to quiz yourself aloud such as, "I wish I could remember the name of that actress we saw." In a way, it makes us sound as vulnerable as they are feeling. Thanks for this article...


over 2 years ago, said...

This was helpful & I will be mindful when asking my dad what in general would be simple questions!


over 3 years ago, said...

I always remember happy times and keep the conversation as if I am telling a story. Even if not remembered it brings a smile. I like it when you visit me she says.


over 3 years ago, said...

I HAVE NO INTENTIONTO REMENBER EVERYTHING LIKE WHAT TIME IS IT WHEN I CANLOOK AT MY WATCH OR WHAT I ATE YESTERDAY WHO CARES AND AGAIN WE HAVE TO VERY CAREFUL WHAT WE ARE TALKING ABOUT AND NOT STATE HE HAS DEMENTIA


over 3 years ago, said...

Tell her the story of what happened. Always make it a happy story. If she remembers it she will tell you.


about 4 years ago, said...

I see LOTS of us are in the same predicament! we NEED help knowing how to phrase our comments and TOTAL CONVERSATIONS! My mom is 2000 miles from me, near family, in a memory unit. I call her often, but it is very difficult to talk with her. She is unable to remember visitors, or trips out for ice cream with loved ones, etc. She is lonely and I usually end up in tears after our calls, feeling guilty that we didn't fight tooth and nail to bring her here. Rather than just saying "Don't say this", I'm SURE there must be ideas out there to help us communicate with our loved ones, even if it helped them feel loved for the few minutes we talked, it would be worth it!


over 4 years ago, said...

Thank you for letting me know what not to say to a person with dementia. It would be helpful if there "sample" statements of how to communicate without causing anxiety to the person with dementia.


over 4 years ago, said...

Caring.com can you please give us some examples of how to word sentences to keep them engaged. Thanks very much!


over 4 years ago, said...

It would ahave been helpful to have examples on how to word sentences to keep them engaged. So much of life is based on our past not the present, so how do you communicate with a person who you have spent 25 years loving and building memories together. So much of the so called advice is always what NOT to do, but nothing on what to do and how to cope with the feelings and loss of everything .


over 4 years ago, said...

This article would have been much more helpful if you had given examples of rephrazed questions and comments for those you used above so the reader would know how to talk about a memory or recent event/activity.


over 4 years ago, said...

Just didn't always think....


over 4 years ago, said...

THANK YOU SO MUCH. MY FRIENDS MOM HAS DEMENTIA AND SHE IS VERY WORRIED. I WILL SHARE THIS LINK WITH HER. I HAVE A CLOSE FRIEND WHO HAS HAD DEMENTIA FOR ABOUT FIVE YEARS NOW AND HE IS GETTING WORSE, AND I FEEL REAL BAD FOR HIM AS HE WAS ONCE A BRIGHT YOUNG MAN. I MEAN I AM ALMOST DRIVEN TO TEARS WHEN I GO TO SEE HIM. MY ONLY COMFORT IS THAT HE DOES NOT UNDERSTAND HIS OWN CONDITION AND SEEMS HAPPY.


over 4 years ago, said...

By putting as much infomation as you can as I'm just learning about this,,I've recantly moved in with my mom,because of her condition..and I've notice when i speak to her I seem to make her more confused and and i can see the anxiety, in her face......and makes me fell bad....


over 4 years ago, said...

A web site is being built for me right now for adaptive clothing, and I will be blogging with hints, and articles to help the caregiver. I will likely be using your site for information, and will surely give you the credit. If there is something you want me to know, please let me knnow. Nancy Anderson


over 4 years ago, said...

Give some examples of alternative questions. I have no idea how to ask them


almost 5 years ago, said...

The statement, it may feel like you're bneding over backward not to offentd, but you are simpy trying to avoid situations ....... I do other things to avoid situations so this makes a lot of sense.


almost 5 years ago, said...

I sometimes get behind reading my newsletters from you, I care for my husband at home and he suffers with physical disabilities and diabetes as well as alz. which gets me behind in many things. But I,m always glad when I do take the time to open them because I,m reminded of things I,ve let slide such as asking these types of questions in casual conversation. It,s just hard to consciously stay on top of everything. One suggestion I have to help the caregiver is to make a point of reading these newsletters when they come in and try to visit the site daily for support and all the wonderful tips you,ll find. I probably sound like a paid spokesman but I,m just a member that,s truly grateful for the higher power that led me here.