Communicating with a person who has dementia

10 July 2019

In her most recent blog, our guest blogger Beth Britton explores ways to positively communicate with a person who is living with dementia


One of the areas of dementia care and support that families and professionals alike often struggle with is communication. Frequently individuals will say that they aren’t sure how to communicate with a person who has dementia, and if this isn’t addressed it can lead to a breakdown in communication that affects the independence, choice and control of the person with dementia.

Historically as a society we’ve placed a huge emphasis on clear and concise dialogue, so when a person with dementia can no longer hold conversations like that, those trying to communicate with them may make assumptions about what the person is trying to communicate and what they are thinking or feeling.

To avoid this, it is vital to find ways to positively communicate, and the first step towards doing that is to appreciate that speech is only one form of communication; expressions, body language, behaviours, actions and reactions can tell us a huge amount without a single word being uttered if we are observing the person well and responding to those observations appropriately.

Alternatives to verbal communication are numerous, and include using pictures or supporting the person to draw or paint what they are trying to communicate. Also consider writing –  As Tommy says in his Dementia Diary, “Writing is therapy for me. It frees my mind. I can express my feelings in the written word without getting emotional.”

Music is another fantastic way to communicate, as I wrote about in my first blog for Promedica24, “Often when a person with dementia can no longer hold a conversation, they can still sing a song or tap out a tune.”

However, you are trying to communicate with a person who has dementia, think about the following:

  • Give time – Arguably the most important quality in positive communication with a person who has dementia is patience. Don’t rush the person’s communication or your communication with them.
  • Make sure the environment is supporting your communication – Distractions like TV, loud music or radio, or other conversations going on around you may make it harder for the person to concentrate on what they are trying to communicate to you and for them to process what you are communicating to them. Aim for a quiet, calm environment, which of course is easier to achieve in the person’s own home when they are being supported by a live-in carer.
  • Try to gain and hold the person’s attention – Think about your positioning (you should be facing the person, on their level, with them able to see your mouth moving and your facial expressions and body language), make eye contact, and gently bring your communication to life through your facial expressions, hand gestures and body language.
  • Be aware of sensory loss – Read the Promedica24 blog on how dementia impacts the senses.
  • Avoid information overload – Don’t bombard the person with long sentences. Keep your communication clear and concise, and avoid excess questioning. Once you’ve said your sentence or asked your question, remember to be patient for the response and concentrate on the person.
  • Be open-minded to responses – If the person responds, but it isn’t the response you expected, avoid contradicting the person, and if their responses to you are repetitive, always answer like it’s the first time you’ve heard that statement or been asked that question. If you don’t understand what the person has communicated, perhaps because it involved words or sounds you didn’t comprehend, consider non-verbal ways to communicate with the person.
  • Let the person’s home assist their communication – Being at home, supported by a live-in carer, means the person is surrounded by personal items that can potentially become props to support understanding and communication, so be creative in your approach.

About the author:

Beth Britton is a leading campaigner, consultant, writer and blogger whose father had vascular dementia for 19 years. Beth is also a Skills for Care Endorsed Training Provider. More information on Beth’s website: https://www.bethbritton.com

To find out more about Promedica24:

You can call 0800 086 8686 or email care@promedica24.co.uk


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