Here’s What to Avoid When Talking to Someone With Dementia

The adult child of a senior hugs her mother after learning what to avoid when talking to someone with dementia.

Do you know what to avoid saying when talking to someone with dementia?


 

Everyone knows the feeling of saying the wrong thing. Perhaps your intention was to compliment a friend on her new haircut, but you came across sounding like you were criticizing her previous hairstyle. Choosing our words carefully is always important, but even more so when talking to someone with dementia. 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 understanding and connection:

  1. “You’re being difficult.” Calling a person with dementia difficult or challenging can create tension and hinder 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 are feeling frustrated. Let’s take a moment to determine how we can make things better together.”
  2. “Remember when…?” When talking to someone with dementia, it can be embarrassing for them to have to try to remember specific details from the past. 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 wonderful evening,” allowing them to participate in the conversation without feeling pressured to remember specific details.
  3. “You already said that.” It’s counterproductive and unhelpful to tell someone with dementia when they’re being forgetful. Instead, practice patience and respond as if it’s the first time you’ve heard the information. This tactic 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.” Trying to deny or minimize someone’s dementia can cause more confusion and isolation. It’s crucial to acknowledge their reality while offering reassurance and support. Express empathy and assure them that you are there to help navigate any challenges they may face. You could say, “I’m here to support you through this journey, regardless of what comes our way.”
  5. “You’re wrong.” Invalidating a person’s thoughts or memories may cause distress and frustration. Instead of dismissing their reality, validate their feelings and experiences. For instance, say, “I understand that you see it that way,” or redirect the conversation to another topic. By acknowledging their perspective, you validate their emotions and maintain a sense of connection.

The farther dementia progresses, the more challenging it can be. Let our highly trained, experienced dementia care specialists help. Contact us online or give us a call at 919-426-7522 to learn more about our specialized care for individuals with dementia in Raleigh, Cary, Wake Forest, and the surrounding areas. We understand the unique needs of individuals living with dementia and are dedicated to providing compassionate care that promotes dignity and quality of life.