Tips for better communication

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Dementia is a complex condition and every person’s experience is different. However, many people living with dementia can face similar challenges with communication.

Often the small changes we make in our approach can make a big difference in avoiding communication difficulties or frustration. It can help build and maintain good relationships.

Understanding the challenges a person living with dementia may face with communication

Challenges may include:

  • Difficulty pronouncing or finding the right words
  • Problems following a conversation, especially in a noisy environment
  • Difficulty understanding humour or sarcasm
  • Difficulty recognising other people’s emotions or behaviours
  • Repetition due to reduced concentration or memory problems
  • Tiredness or ill health which may cause a fluctuation in concentration and communication abilities
  • Stress caused by trying to make sense of the environment, situations and other people

Good communication skills to learn

We communicate a lot through our body language, facial expressions, and tone of voice. If we seem positive, cheerful and confident, we bring a sense of hope and reassurance to the conversation, and conversely if we appear resentful or unhappy, we can bring a sense of gloom. You could try:

  • stopping what you’re doing and focusing on the person
  • limiting distractions
  • saying their name when talking to them
  • being specific; try not to use pronouns such as he or she
  • use a person’s name instead
  • touching the person’s arm, if they feel comfortable with this
  • smiling
  • speaking slowly, clearly and in short sentences
  • listening carefully with empathy and understanding
  • giving the person plenty of time to answer
  • maintaining appropriate eye contact
  • using gestures to act out what you’re saying eg, mimicking drinking a cup of tea or putting on your shoes
  • using pictures to illustrate what you’re saying eg, an image of a car or a photo of where you are going
  • using simple and straightforward language
  • avoiding too many open-ended questions or offering too many choices

Communication is complex and the enclosed suggestions may work with some people but not with others. People living with dementia can often understand far more than they can express, so always involve them in communication, using some of our hints and tips.

Hearing loss

Hearing loss can be particularly difficult for people with dementia as it may make them feel more confused and less able to communicate. You can ask your GP to refer you for a hearing test with a hearing specialist (audiologist) or book a test in a large pharmacy or optician. These are often free. The RNID charity has a free online tool to check your hearing and see whether you need a full hearing test: There is also a free Information Line that provides advice around hearing loss: email, text 0780 000 0360 or phone 0800 808 0123.

If there is a sudden change and the person living with dementia does seem more irritable and confused than before, visit the GP to find out whether there is a reason for this, eg, infection, constipation, dehydration and physical ill health, which can all be treated.

The PDF version of this leaflet contains some pages on common communication issues and how you can help. You can download this at the top right of this webpage.

Tips for better communication

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