Communicating well with a person with dementia
Dementia can make it more difficult to communicate with others. As dementia progresses it becomes harder for a person to tell others about themselves and to understand what others are saying to them. This leads to people feeling cut off and isolated.
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Each person is different, and the way a person reacts to their dementia will be shaped by their personality and personal history. People with dementia are dealing with a disability that is hidden from view: this is confusing and difficult for the person with dementia and those around them. If you understand the most common difficulties that people with dementia struggle with, you will be better able to understand the person you want to get to know.
The person behind the dementia
If you know key information about a person's life before they developed dementia, this will greatly help you develop a relationship with them. Life story work and reminiscence work both involve focusing on a person's past and bringing their history to life and into the present. Identifying strong social and cultural 'touchstones' or events of great personal significance is a way of coming up with a means that will help you to connect with a person with dementia.
Having a conversation
Dementia affects people's communication in different ways. There are lots of things we can do to improve how we communicate with people with dementia. Some people, particularly early on in their dementia, may have very few difficulties communicating. It may be enough to summarise regularly and provide assistance to keep people on track. Some people may have virtually no language at all. In these situations the person will need a lot more help to communicate.
Behaviour as a form of communication
People with dementia communicate in other ways when they lose the ability to speak, through body language, gestures and facial expressions. The behaviour of a person with dementia will be influenced by so many things. The more you know about the person with dementia you are caring for, the more likely you are to understand the meaning behind the behaviour.
Communication in the later stages of dementia
It is possible to communicate with a person with advanced stage dementia. How we communicate with a person with advanced dementia can vary, depending on what we know about the individual, particularly things they have enjoyed during their life. Communication remains important throughout a person's journey with dementia.
Access and download additional resources
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The Alzheimer’s Society produces over 80 factsheets on all sorts of topics related to dementia, including many that relate to communicating well with people with dementia: ‘Communicating’ (500) ‘Understanding and supporting a person with dementia’ (524),‘Dementia and the brain’ (456), ‘Changes in behaviour’ (525) and ‘Top tips’.
Communicating with people with dementia
This short video posted on Youtube features Bupa’s dementia specialist, Dr Graham Stokes, talking about communication with people with dementia.
Dementia care: how to deal with the challenges of communication
This 2012 publication was written by Jennifer Roberts, previously the Dementia Lead for the UKHCA.
DemTalk is a free online toolkit giving guidance on communication with people living with dementia. Different versions of the toolkit have been developed for family carers and health and care staff.
Listen, talk, connect: communicating with people living with dementia
This 2014 Care UK guide is aimed at family carers, relatives and friends and covers topics such as ‘Starting a conversation’, ‘Having a conversation’, ‘Making the most of your visit’, ‘The unspoken word’, and ‘Coping with difficult conversations’. The guide includes top tips and practical suggestions from a range of Care UK staff.
Tips for better communication with a person living with dementia
This new factsheet from Dementia UK explains the challenges faced by people with dementia when communicating, sets out helpful suggestions on good communication skills, and describes some common communication dilemmas.