Tip sheet: how to communicate with a person living with dementia
Organization: Health Canada
Being aware of how you talk, listen and behave will help you to have positive interactions with someone living with dementia.
Things to know
- Not everyone experiences the same dementia symptoms or behaviours.
- Try different communication methods. Some may work well for one person but not another; some may work well one day but not the next.
- Some people may have challenges with being understood or may have difficulty understanding things they hear or read.
Start with a positive interaction
- Place yourself in front of the person, be at the same level, make eye contact, and stay still to ensure they can focus on you.
- Reduce distractions. Bring the person to a quieter place if possible. It can be reassuring and help them understand you better.
- Stay calm and be patient.
- Avoid body language that makes you seem annoyed, like sighing or crossing your arms. People living with dementia may be sensitive to nonverbal cues.
- Pay attention to behaviour and body language. This can show you a lot about how they are feeling.
- Respect their personal space.
Speak with care
- Speak slowly and clearly and use a friendly tone.
- Use short and simple sentences.
- Avoid open-ended questions and too many options. Focus on one response at a time.
- Avoid using childish or patronizing language.
- Avoid telling them they're wrong or that you just told them something, as this may confuse them. Instead, respond calmly and offer encouragement – sometimes all you need to do is listen and reassure them.
- Try to communicate in different ways if they seem confused. You can:
- use hand gestures, like pointing
- offer to show them what you mean
- write out clear directions with large print and photos if possible
- If someone is having difficulty finding the right word and appears to want help, you can suggest the word or ask them to describe or point to it.
- Give them time to respond and express themselves.
- Offer non-verbal encouragement, like making eye contact and nodding.
- Validate what they have said to let them know you are listening. Use phrases like, "Yes, this does seem like a long wait."
- Try not to interrupt when they are speaking, even if you think you know what they want to say.
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