Tips for having a conversation with someone living with dementia symptoms


When someone you love experiences dementia symptoms, it can be heartbreaking to realize that your communication with one another is likely going to change forever. Frustrations may arise from both of you as you navigate this new way of communicating and spending time with one another. While things are different, there is still much joy to be found in one another’s presence if you exercise patience and take a loving approach to communicate.

Here are some tips to keep in mind during visits and phone calls with someone living with dementia symptoms.

Speak in proper sentences: Many of us use more idioms and slang language than we might realize. Keep in mind that this could be confusing to someone living with dementia who could take these phrases literally. For example, if you say, “That’s a piece of cake,” they could become confused because there isn’t actually any cake. Practice awareness so that you notice when you do this.

Listen closely: Many of us don’t even notice how often we are thinking about what we’re going to say next instead of what’s being said. This is a great time to practice the lost art of listening. Pay close attention to what is being said so that the person you’re speaking to feels heard and cared for.

Speak to them like an adult: One of the biggest mistakes we make when communicating with someone living with dementia is to speak to them as if they are a child. Remember that they are an adult who deserves the respect to be spoken to like one.

Be aware of expressions: If it feels natural to do so and is appropriate for the topic at hand, wear a smile as much as possible to convey a sense of safety and warmth. Maintaining eye contact also helps to show you’re focused and interested in the conversation.

Use touch to comfort: Some people feel comforted by touch, such as holding their hand as you walk with them or rubbing their back when they are feeling upset. However, this could have the opposite effect if they are not comfortable with touch. Pay attention to body language and use touch as they are comfortable with it.

Keep questions to a minimum: While questions are an easy conversation starter, try to keep them to a minimum and space them out so that they don’t have to think about how to respond and become frustrated. Instead, share stories or discuss things about the space you’re in and the surroundings.

Have patience: This is probably the most important thing to keep in mind. There will likely be times where things can feel awkward or uncomfortable, especially if someone has recently been diagnosed. Live in the moment and enjoy one another’s presence together without expectations. If one of you becomes frustrated, have patience, take a breath and start over.

Challenges are a very normal part of the caregiving process and at times it can feel isolating. There is an entire Facebook community of caregivers walking the same path, supporting one another and sharing experiences. I would love for you to join us.

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