With 91% of people in the UK affected by dementia in some way, we know that it can also affect everyone differently. That’s why it is so important to communicate in a way that is right for the person; it’s about thinking about the way that we say things, as well as the actual words that we use. All these things can make a difference, good and bad, on that person.

We must also think about our body language and facial expressions when we communicate with someone living with dementia. It can be so difficult for them to get their point across and emotions like frustration or annoyance, can easily show in how we hold ourselves, despite the words we are saying.

It seems like a simple thing to remember, but in the heat of the moment, it can sometimes be the first thing we forget. If you are caring for someone living with dementia, don’t forget we have other tips and hints, in this article.

With tips and hopefully helpful hints in mind, here is how you can make the communication experience with someone living with dementia a more positive one.

Making them feel comfortable

Seems simple right? However, you need to make sure that you are in a good place to communicate. It should ideally be quiet and calm, with good lighting, as somewhere busy or with distractions like the radio or TV can make it harder for them to concentrate on you and what you’re trying to ask them.

You can also:

  • Think about whether there is a time of day where the person can communicate more clearly and, use this time to ask any questions or talk about anything you need to
  • Make the most of ‘good’ days where the person is able to communicate more freely and find ways to adapt on more difficult days to help them to recall a particular word or item, such as asking them to describe it
  • Make sure that their needs are met before you start, for example checking that they are not in pain or hungry
  • Plan enough time to spend with the person, if you feel rushed or stressed, take some time to pause and breathe beforehand.

How to communicate

Having a conversation is the easiest thing in the world to do, but someone living with dementia may find holding a dialogue with one person, let alone multiple people, more and more difficult.

  • Think about how you might feel if you struggled to communicate with loved ones and what would help you
  • Use short, simple sentences and if they become tired, try shorter and more regular conversations where possible
  • Don’t talk to the person as like they are a child – be patient and respectful
  • Keep it conversational and not just ask question after question, as this could be quite tiring or frustrating if they struggle to answer
  • If there are other people in the room, include the person n the conversation as much as you can. Don’t speak as though they are not there; including them can make them feel valued and less isolated
  • Avoid shouting or speaking sharply as this can be intimidating or frightening

Your body language

Verbal communication is a big part of our lives, but how we use non-verbal communication like facial expressions or body language, can also influence how we come across to others.

  • Stand or sit where the person can see and hear you as clearly as possible – this is usually in front of them, with your face well-lit. Try to be at eye level instead of standing over them
  • Get as close as you can that is comfortable for you both, so that it is easy to hear one another and make eye contact as you would with anyone
  • Prompts can help, like pointing at a photo of someone or encouraging the person to interact with an object you are talking about
  • Try and keep your body language open and relaxed

While we have covered the importance of keeping things positive, being kind and respectful, as well as remembering that someone living with dementia will have good days and bad days, there are also things we should avoid saying or doing.

The Alzheimer’s Society has come up with seven things to avoid saying such as ‘Remember when…?’ or ‘Do you recognise me?’, and instead offer things you can try instead. You can find that article here.