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Improve Communication With Someone With Dementia by Knowing What NOT to Say

A woman hugging her mom is smiling because she has learned how to improve communication with someone with dementia.

Have you ever said the wrong thing? Maybe your intention was to compliment a friend on her new haircut, but you came across sounding like you were criticizing her previous hairstyle. Selecting our words carefully is always important, but even more so when speaking with someone with dementia. We can improve communication with someone with dementia simply by carefully choosing the words we say and the way we say them.

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

  1. “You’re wrong.” Invalidating a person’s memories or thoughts may cause distress and frustration. 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 another topic. By acknowledging their perspective, you validate their emotions and maintain a sense of connection.
  2. “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 very first time you’ve 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.
  3. “You are being difficult.” Labeling their behavior as challenging or difficult can escalate tension and hinder effective communication. Instead, approach them with understanding and kindness. Identify the underlying needs or emotions driving their behavior and respond with patience and empathy. For example, say, “I can see that you’re feeling frustrated. Why don’t we take a moment to determine how we can make things better together.”
  4. “Do you remember…?” Asking someone with dementia to recall 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 engage in the conversation without feeling pressured to recall specific details.
  5. “You don’t have dementia.” Minimizing or denying their condition can result in feelings of confusion and isolation. It is 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, regardless of what comes our way.”

Communication can become extremely challenging as dementia progresses. Let our trained, experienced dementia care specialists help. Contact us at 805-737-4357 to learn more about our specialized care for individuals with dementia in Santa Maria, Nipomo, Santa Ynez, 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.

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