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Caring Currents

How to Talk to Someone With Dementia: New Insights

By , Caring.com contributing editor
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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