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Communication Difficulties and Dementia

Speech and Language Therapy (SaLT)

A diagnosis of dementia can make a huge impact on the life of the individual and their family. It will affect many aspects of their lives. One of the most upsetting and frustrating aspects of this condition are the changes and deterioration in the individual’s communication. The most common changes in communication are:

  • They can’t remember what has been said / asked
  • They no longer start conversations
  • They get confused and may become distressed when asked to make decisions or choices
  • They say the same thing again and again
  • They can’t find the right words, particularly the names of objects and people
  • They lose their place in conversation
  • Not understanding what is said and they may take a long time to respond

Below are some strategies to assist in communicating with individuals with dementia:

Make eye contact

  • Remember to make eye contact and use facial expressions, writing, pictures, gestures and real life objects to help support what you say if the person is having trouble understanding you
  • Start a conversation by addressing the person by their preferred name
  • Use short, simple sentences and keep questions uncomplicated e.g. ‘’shall we go to the shops’’, ‘time for a cuppa’
  • Try to use questions that need a “yes” or “no” answer
  • If the person says something you know to be incorrect, try to find ways of steering around the subject, rather than contradicting them directly
  • Minimise distractions e.g. switching the TV off or removing anything the person may be pre-occupied with
  • Allow pauses and silence so that the person has time to think and respond
  • To reduce confusion avoid using “he, she and it”; use the names of people, places and items
  • Make the subject you want to talk about clear to the person by introducing it first so that they are cued in e.g. going to the hairdressers, changing your clothes, what to have for lunch

Find out as much as you can

Find out as much as you can about the person e.g. their occupation, interests, family, where they grew up. This can help you build rapport and communicate more effectively. Use and check the ‘This is Me’ document and talk to those that know the person best.

Please remember

Each person with dementia is an individual and their difficulties will be individual. Speech and Language Therapists who specialise in communication will be able to assist you.