Tips for communicating with a person with dementia  

People with dementia may face many challenges in communicating with others. Here, we share tips on the small but important changes you can make to improve communication. 

How dementia affects communication

Communication is fundamental to our ability to express ourselves, and our relationships with other people. 

We communicate not only through our words but also our body language, facial expressions and tone of voice – but people with dementia may have challenges with all of these forms of communication. 

They may experience: 

  • difficulty finding the right words, and sometimes using the wrong word 
  • difficulty pronouncing words 
  • muddling words, such as ‘aminal’ rather than ‘animal’ 
  • problems following a conversation, especially in a noisy environment 
  • difficulty understanding humour or sarcasm 
  • difficulty reading other people’s emotions or understanding their behaviours 
  • a tendency to repeat themselves 
  • fluctuating concentration and communication abilities, often caused by tiredness or ill health 
  • stress caused by struggling to make their views, needs and feelings known  
Tips for communicating with a person with dementia

A person with dementia can often understand far more than they can communicate, so always try to involve them in your conversation.

Small changes in your approach can make a big difference. You could try:

  • stopping what you’re doing and focusing entirely on the person
  • limiting distractions
  • saying their name when talking to them
  • touching their arm, if they feel comfortable with this
  • smiling
  • speaking slowly, clearly and in short sentences
  • using simple and straightforward language
  • listening carefully with empathy and understanding
  • giving the person plenty of time to answer
  • maintaining appropriate eye contact
  • being specific – for example, try not to use pronouns such as ‘he’ or ‘she’ when talking about others; use their name instead
  • using gestures to act out what you’re saying – for example, by miming drinking a cup of tea or putting on your shoes
  • using pictures to explain what you’re saying, such as an image of a car or a photo of where you’re going
  • avoiding open-ended questions or offering too many choices
  • using visual timetables – where you use photos or images to show what will happen at various times of the day

You could also ask the person’s GP or specialist if a referral to a speech and language therapist might be beneficial.

If the person with dementia seems more confused than usual and is having more trouble communicating, it’s a good idea to visit their GP.

Sometimes, there may be another cause for their confusion, like an infection, constipation, dehydration or delirium, which could be treated.

Hearing loss and dementia

As well as the challenges that dementia can cause with communication, many people with the diagnosis – especially older people – also have problems with hearing loss.

You can book a hearing test with many large pharmacies or opticians (these are often free of charge), but depending on the progression of the person’s condition, it may be better to ask the GP for a referral to a hearing specialist (audiologist) who has experience of working with people with dementia.

Sources of support

If you would like to speak to a dementia specialist Admiral Nurse about communication, hearing loss or any other aspect of dementia, please call our free Helpline on 0800 888 6678 (Monday-Friday 9am-9pm, Saturday and Sunday 9am-5pm, every day except 25th December) or email helpline@dementiauk.org. 

If you prefer, you can book a phone or video appointment with an Admiral Nurse at dementiauk.org/get-support/closer-to-home/. 

Dementia UK information that may be helpful: 

Dementia and difficulty with sounds
dementiauk.org/get-support/understanding-changes-in-behaviour/dementia-and-difficulty-with-sounds/ 

How to handle communication challenges
dementiauk.org/how-to-handle-communication-challenges/ 

Other resources: 

RNID Information Line
information@rnid.org.uk
0780 000 0360 (text)
0800 808 0123 (phone)
Online hearing check tool: rnid.org.uk/information-and-support/take-online-hearing-check/  

Royal College of Speech and Language Therapy – How to find a speech and language therapist
rcslt.org/speech-and-language-therapy/#section-5 

Download our Tips for better communication leaflet

Download and read our leaflet on Tips for better communication

Download now

Order our information leaflets

Order printed versions of our leaflets

Order now

How can we support you

Whether you have a question that needs an immediate answer or need emotional support when life feels overwhelming, these are the ways our dementia specialist Admiral Nurses can support you

How we can support you

Publication date: December 2020
Review date: December 2022