Speaking To Dementia: What Not To Say (And What TO Say)

Speaking to a loved one who suffers from dementia can be challenging. You care so much about them, but the frustration slips out. It can be hard to know how to answer the same question again.

The most important thing to remember is to be patient and respond with compassion. Here is what you might say, followed by what you should say instead:

“I already told you…”

This one comes up a lot. You’ve already answered this question six times! But this response is intimidating to someone with dementia, because they don’t realise that they’ve made a mistake.

Instead, answer the question again, with the same love you did the first time. We know, this takes patience some days.

“You probably can’t do that on your own”

We know – you want to protect them. You seem them looking weaker, and with trembling hands, and the occasional forgetful mistakes – but dementia or not, seniors want to maintain their independence, and it is important that you let them.

If the task does seem insurmountably difficult, instead try suggesting they ask the relevant person for help, or suggest that you are there to help if the need arises. If it is a ‘no-go’ (like driving, for instance), suggest an attractive alternative.

“That’s not what we’re talking about right now”

Sometimes, your elderly loved one changes the subject. To you, the rapid switch might make no sense.

You have two options here: If the subject was important to you, then politely remind them what the topic was, and explain why it is important to you to discuss it. If not, let the conversation take this bend. Just listen, and enjoy their company.

The most important thing is to make sure that they feel comfortable and cared for. The majority of the time, this is in your tone, instead of just the words you say. Gentle reminders versus exasperated corrections hold the same meaning – but with so much difference in the emotion. Help them feel safe, with your love and patience.