How do you effectively talk to someone with Dementia?

People living with dementia say and do normal things for someone with memory impairment. If they were deliberately trying to exasperate you, they would have a different diagnosis. Forgive them…always.

You can’t control memory loss – only your reaction to it.

For people with dementia, their disability is memory loss. Asking them to remember is like asking a blind person to see. Asking them daily  “Did you take your pills?” or “What did you do today?” is actually asking them to remember something. They have a reduced capacity to reason therefore expecting them to be reasonable or see your point of view is unrealistic. Try not to correct, contradict, blame or insist. Reminders are rarely kind. You are just reminding them of their inabilities over and over again.

How should you communicate?

  • Give short, one sentence explanations.
  • Allow plenty of time for them to understand at least twice the time you think.
  • Repeat instructions or sentences exactly the same way.
  • Avoid insistence. Try again later, just take a break for you and for them.
  • Agree with them or distract them to a different subject or activity.
  • Accept the blame when something’s wrong (even if you don’t agree).
  • Give them choices so they feel they are involved in decision making
  • Respond to the feelings rather than the words.
  • Practice 100% forgiveness. Memory loss progresses daily.


Above all else be patient and cheerful and reassuring. This will make those you love feel connected.

How not to communicate

  • Don’t reason.
  • Don’t argue.
  • Don’t confront.
  • Don’t remind them they forget.
  • Don’t question recent memory.
  • Don’t take it personally.


Here are some great examples of how to communicate well; try to remember these do’s and don’t.

Scenario 1:

“What doctor’s appointment? There’s nothing wrong with me.”

Don’t – Reason

“You’ve been seeing the doctor every three months for the last two years. It’s written on the calendar and I told you about it yesterday and this morning.”

Do – Short Explanation

“It’s just a regular checkup.” (accept blame) “I’m sorry if I forgot to tell you.”

Do – Reassure

“I’ll make sure they don’t do that.”

Do – Distract

“Would you help me fold the towels?”

Scenario 2:

“Nobody’s going to make decisions for me. You can leave now”

Don’t – Confront

“I’m not going anywhere and you can’t remember enough to make your own decisions.”

Do – Accept blame or respond to feelings

“I’m sorry this is a tough time.”

Do – Reassure

“I love you and we’re going to get through this together.”

Do – Distract

“You know what? Sarah has a new job. She’s really excited about it.”

Scenario 3:

“Mike hasn’t called for a long time. I hope he’s okay.”

Don’t – Question memory

“Mike called yesterday and you talked with him for 15 minutes.”

Do – Reassure

“You really like talking with him don’t you?”

Do – Distract

“Let’s call him when we get back from our walk.”

Scenario 4:

“Hello, Barbara. I see you’ve brought a friend with you.”

Don’t – Remind

”“Hi Mum. You remember Chris, don’t you? What did you do today?”

Do – Short explanation

“Hi Mum. You look wonderful! This is Chris. We work together.”

Scenario 5:

“Who are you? Where’s my husband?”

Don’t – Take it personally

“What do you mean – who’s your husband?” I am!”

Do – Go with the flow, reassure

“He’ll be here for dinner.”

Do – Distract

“How about a cup of tea?…

Scenario 6:

“I’m going to the newsagent for the newspaper.”

Don’t – Repeat differently

“Please put your shoes on.”…You’ll need to put your shoes on.”

Do – Repeat exactly

“Please put your shoes on.”… “Please put your shoes on.”


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