Effective Communication with Dementia: What to Say and What to Avoid

A daughter embraces her aging mother as she works on improving her communication with dementia patients.
Patience and compassion are vital components of communication with dementia clients.

Have you ever said the wrong thing? Maybe your objective was to compliment a friend on her new haircut, but you came across sounding like you were criticizing her previous hairstyle. When it comes to communication with dementia patients, choosing our words carefully is always important. The words we say and the way we say them can significantly impact the person’s emotional well-being and quality of life.

Here are five things never to say to someone with dementia, along with alternative approaches to foster connection and understanding:

  1. “Do you remember…?” Asking someone with dementia to remember specific details can result in embarrassment or anxiety if they cannot remember. Instead, provide gentle prompts or share your own memories to spark conversation without putting pressure on them to remember. For example, say, “I remember when we went to that restaurant together. It was such a lovely evening,” allowing them to participate in the conversation without feeling pressured to recall specific details.
  2. “You’re being difficult.” Labeling their behavior as difficult or challenging can escalate tension and hinder effective communication. Instead, approach them with kindness and understanding. Identify the underlying emotions or needs driving their behavior and respond with empathy and patience. For example, say, “I can see that you’re feeling frustrated. Let’s take a moment to determine how we can make things better together.”
  3. “You just told me that.” Continuously pointing out their forgetfulness can be counterproductive and hurtful. Instead, practice patience and respond as if it is the first time you have heard the information. This approach preserves their dignity and reduces feelings of frustration. You can say, “Thank you for sharing that with me,” and continue the conversation without dwelling on their forgetfulness.
  4. “You don’t have dementia.” Denying or minimizing their condition can result in feelings of confusion and isolation. It’s essential to acknowledge their reality while offering support and reassurance. Express empathy and assure them that you are there to help navigate any challenges they might face. You could say, “I’m here to support you through this journey, no matter what comes our way.”
  5. “You’re wrong.” Invalidating a person’s thoughts or memories may cause frustration and distress. Rather than dismissing their reality, validate their feelings and experiences. For instance, say, “I understand that you see it that way,” or redirect the conversation to a different topic. By acknowledging their perspective, you validate their emotions and maintain a sense of connection.

Communication with dementia patients can become very challenging as dementia progresses. Let Serenity Home Care’s highly trained, experienced dementia care specialists help. Contact us online or give us a call at 250.590.8098 to learn more about our specialized care for individuals with dementia in Sidney, Saanich, Victoria, as well as the surrounding areas. We understand the unique needs of individuals living with dementia and are dedicated to providing thoughtful care that promotes dignity and quality of life.