Communicating with compassion: how to talk to someone with dementia

Written by Ranger Home Care
10 May 2024

Communicating with someone who has dementia can be a challenging, frustrating and emotional process. You need patience, understanding and above all, compassion. Remember, the goal isn’t to communicate perfectly but to connect with them and make sure they feel loved and valued.

Read on for some practical tips on how to talk to someone with dementia in a compassionate and understanding way.

Understand the impact of dementia

Dementia affects each person differently, but it usually impacts their ability to process information and express their thoughts. As a result, conversations can become difficult.

When dementia progresses, it changes the way a person thinks, remembers and communicates. The Alzheimer’s Society and NHS England both highlight the way individuals can deteriorate and how you can adapt to them. It’s important to recognise these changes so you can set realistic expectations of the person with dementia’s ability and limitations.  

Keep things simple

Use simple words and short sentences. This will make it easier for the person with dementia to follow the conversation better.

Avoid open-ended questions which can be overwhelming. Instead, ask questions, such as, “Would you like tea or coffee?” rather than “What would you like to drink?”

Use a calm and reassuring tone

The tone of your voice can sometimes communicate more than your words. Using a calm, gentle tone can help soothe their anxieties and make the person feel safe and understood. Even if they don’t fully understand what you’re saying, how you say it can provide comfort.

Be patient and give them time

People with dementia often need more time to understand and respond to conversations. Pause frequently and allow them time to think when they speak. If they struggle to find words, resist the urge to finish their sentences or correct them.

It can be frustrating if you have to wait or repeat what you’re saying many times but it’s important to have a gentle approach.

Engage with nonverbal cues

When an individual struggles to engage with you, nonverbal communication is essential. Maintaining eye contact, smiling and nodding can show that you are listening and empathetic.

Using these types of cues can help improve communication without having to talk. More importantly, they confirm that you care and are trying to support them whatever way you can.

Focus on feelings, not facts

As dementia progresses, the ability to remember facts deteriorates. Despite this, emotional memory can remain intact a lot longer. This is another technique you can use to help communicate with a dementia sufferer.

Avoid correcting mistakes or factual inaccuracies in their conversation. Instead, focus on helping them express their feelings. You will be showing more compassion by prioritising their emotions, rather than dwelling on facts.

Create a positive environment

Another helpful way to communicate with a person with dementia is to reduce background noise and distractions. Communication will be made easier in a quieter environment and reduce the risk of sensory overload that could lead to an agitated state.

A quiet, calm setting can help the person with dementia focus better on the conversation and remain settled and positive.

Use physical cues

A gentle touch can be reassuring for anyone. Holding hands, a pat on the shoulder or a warm embrace can provide comfort and make the person feel connected and less isolated.

This type of physical comfort can be very helpful when communicating with a dementia sufferer. Living in regular confusion and agitation can bring a mass of emotions that can often be calmed down by an appropriate physical cue.

Adapt to their reality

Sometimes, people with dementia may experience realities that aren’t accurate, such as believing they are living in a different time period. It’s quite common for individuals to go back to childhood and look for family members that have long passed on.

Instead of correcting them, it’s less distressing for them if you join their reality. Have a conversation about their mother or what they did in school that day. If a conversation is bringing them happiness and calm, just go with it. Showing compassion in this can lead to more meaningful interactions.

Incorporate humour

If you find that it’s appropriate and works, use light humour to relieve tension. You can improve someone’s mood easily if they appreciate humour. But be careful what type you use and never make jokes that could be at the individual’s expense.

Find out what a person with dementia finds funny and encourage them with it. For example, a particular TV programme, a funny book, a radio programme or theatre show – whatever is appropriate and positively affects them.

Use visual aids

Taking the time to use photos, objects or other visual aids to create conversation is a compassionate way to communicate. Things like this can evoke memories and encourage the individual to share stories that they remember.

It also shows respect for them and shows that you still see the value in the person they are.

Keep trying different approaches

If one method doesn’t work, don’t be discouraged. Dementia is a complex illness and affects everyone differently. What doesn’t work today could have an effect tomorrow.

It’s important to remember that their needs can change over time or from day-to-day. Be flexible and try different strategies to see what works best at different stages of their condition.

Compassionate live-in care with Ranger Home Care

Learning how to talk to someone with dementia requires compassion, patience and creativity. It’s important to know how to adapt your approach and maintain a positive, supportive environment for them.

Ranger Home Care provide live-in carers 24/7 to help people stay safe and healthy in their own homes. Our highly trained staff are compassionate and experienced carers who ensure that every health need is understood and taken care of. Have a look at what some of our clients say about us.

If you’d like to speak to a Ranger Home Care about the benefits of live-in care call us directly on 01252 850040 or email natalie@rangerhomecare.com.

Read some of our client stories

Steven’s story: Living with dementia

Steven’s story: Living with dementia

Steven’s a successful car dealer and entrepreneur developed dementia in his 60’s. This had a profound effect on his busy hectic life. His desire to remain at home and continue as much of his normal routine, including visiting the pub…

Ross’s story: Living with cerebral palsy

Ross’s story: Living with cerebral palsy

Living with cerebral palsy, Ross was unable to independently complete daily tasks before he had live-in care.

Live-in care enabled him to regain his independence without being limited by his physical constraints.

Evelyn’s story: Caring for someone with dementia

Evelyn’s story: Caring for someone with dementia

Living with dementia could have denied Evelyn of her many loves, but having a live in carer gives her the freedom to continue enjoying her interests, such as retaining her well-kept garden and staying with her dog.