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How To Talk To Someone With Dementia

If you have a loved one with mild to moderate dementia, you've probably found yourself at a conversational crossroads at some point. Does Dad not remember that he just asked me that question five minutes ago? Should I correct the story Mom just recounted from my childhood? Or maybe you’ve noticed that your loved one is struggling to put their thoughts into words. The good news is that everyone can have enjoyable conversations with a loved one suffering from dementia. Here are some helpful communication tips that will make your time together even better:

Things to avoid:

· Correcting them. Correcting people makes them feel bad or embarrassed. Unless a correction is necessary, just move on to another topic.

· Reminding them of painful realities. Sometimes people with dementia will ask about a deceased family member. Try pivoting to a story about that person instead of talking about their death.

· "You just asked me that." People with dementia can't remember what was just said, so go with the flow and try not to get frustrated. Just answer the question again. You’re the one with the healthy brain – it doesn’t hurt to repeat yourself, even if it can start to grate on your nerves!

Here are a few scripts for talking to people with dementia:

Example: Your mom momentarily can't remember the name of the place she worked.

"I'll bet that was interesting. Tell me something else about your work."

Example: Your uncle says, "I want to go home."

"Oh, yes, your home in the city. It had a garden. What was your favorite part of working in the garden?”

Example: Your aunt asks about a deceased family member.

"Oh sure, your cousin Joan. Joan used to go dancing with you, didn't she?"

Example: Your dad gets anxious when your mom isn't home.

"She'll be back soon. I hear you two like walking to the park, right? What do you see there?”

Example: Your dad doesn't feel like eating.

Instead of saying, "What would you like to eat?" try saying, "I'm going to eat. Would you join me?

Then you can offer two choices:

“Would you like pasta or chicken?"

Example: Your loved one is upset, but you're not sure why.

Look for the feeling behind the words.

"Are you are feeling worried? I'll stay here with you."


Say what you think they might be feeling, then try redirecting with an activity.

"I'm sorry you're upset. Why don't we go outside and take a little walk?"

Example: Your senior keeps repeating the same question.

"Well, let me think about that. Right now, I'd like to see this beautiful garden. Would you come with me?"

Solutions for some everyday situations:

Situation: Your senior seems momentarily confused.

It can sometimes help to bring an object to help direct the conversation.

"I brought pictures to look at together. Would you look at them with me?"

Situation: Your senior doesn't want to eat, get dressed, go to the doctor, etc.

Try offering two options instead of a yes and no question.

(Holding up two shirts)

"Would you like to wear this blue shirt or the red?"


"Would you like to go to lunch after the Doctor's visit or come back home?"

Relishing the Past

Many people with mild to moderate dementia still have quite a few long-term memories. If your senior likes to talk about the past, here are some questions that might spark an interesting conversation:

(Remember, give them plenty of time to answer.)

What did you like to do when you were young?

Did you like school when you were little?

What kinds of toys did you like?

Did you have chores when you were growing up? Which one did you dislike the most?

Did you ever get into mischief as a child?

When did you learn to drive? What kind of car did you have?

I heard that you like fishing. Can you demonstrate for me how you cast the line? I’m not very good at it.

People with dementia benefit greatly from interaction with you, and no matter how your conversation goes, know that your presence is a comfort to them. With a few scripts in your back pocket, you can make sure your interactions are pleasant and enjoyable for both of you.

Many people with memory issues can still be a good fit for Assisted Living! It's very common for Assisted Living residents to be physically fit and capable, but need some help managing medications or having reminders for meals, activities and appointments. Give us a call at 319-341-7893 to chat more about how Assisted Living can help your loved one with dementia!

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