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Imagine if you were to lose the ability to say the right word or understand what is being said, e.g. when on holiday in a foreign country where you don’t speak the language. You may feel frustrated, angry, and look for help, perhaps to someone to interpret for you. You might respond by not speaking at all and withdrawing into yourself or avoiding situations where you have to communicate with people. This is what it can be like for people with dementia.

Quite often people ask me for advice on the best way to communicate with people who have dementia and here are my top 12 helpful tips:

‘12 Helpful Tips’ for communicating with someone living with dementia, whether in they are hospital or living at home.

  1. Be calm and patient.
  2. Face the person, speak clearly and slowly.
  3. Make sure that you have their attention by gently touching their arm and saying their name.
  4. Use short, simple sentences and say exactly what you mean.
  5. Try to get one idea across at a time.
  6. Allow plenty of time for the person to take in what you say and try not to reply.
  7. Try not to confuse or embarrass the person by correcting them bluntly.
  8. Use questions which ask for a simple answer.
  9. Don’t ask questions which test their memory, e.g. ‘Who am I?’ or ‘What did you do yesterday?’.
  10. Talk about familiar people, places and ideas.
  11. Use the names of the people you are talking about instead of ‘he’ or ‘she’. It will remind the person of who you are talking about.
  12. Use facial expressions and hand gestures to make yourself understood.

A person with dementia may also:

  • Feel under pressure because they can’t cope as well as they used to.
  • Feel that their independence and privacy are being taken away.
  • Think that they are being judged for making a mistake.
  • Be frightened by too much noise, too many people or change to their routine.
  • May already have poor hearing and eyesight which can be made worse by their dementia.

A smile, touch or gesture can be just as important in getting the message across and showing that you care.

If you would like more information about this topic or anything to do with dementia please contact Helen Skinner (Alzheimer Scotland Dementia Nurse Consultant) on helen.skinner@nhs.netor 01592 643355 x28429