Busy > A Better Way of Communicating with Someone who has Dementia
9th Jul 2022
Don't Say These To 11 Thing To Dementia Patients

A Better Way of Communicating with Someone who has Dementia

There’s a saying that ‘communication is the lifeline of any relationship’. Now, this can be quite important when communicating with someone suffering from dementia. While your loved one may have various challenges dealing with dementia, your poor choice of language can make their situation even more dire and frustrating. There might be circumstances where you unintentionally hurt them with your words.

Here, let’s understand dementia meaning, dementia causes, and the things not to say to someone with dementia.


Definition of Dementia

Dementia is not a specific disease; rather, it is a term that represents a group of conditions that affect someone:

  • Thinking
  • Memory
  • Personality
  • Reasoning
  • Language
  • Coordination
  • Mood and
  • Behaviour

Dementia can be understood as a condition or syndrome that involves a decline in mental function that is severe enough to interfere with daily life and activities. It often develops when certain brain parts related to memory, decision-making, learning, or language are affected by diseases or injury.


Some Noted Dementia Causes

Dementia can be either due to diseases like Parkinson’s and Alzheimer’s or several symptoms that don’t have a definitive diagnosis. Alzheimer’s disease is the most common cause of dementia syndrome. Although these two may overlap, there is a difference between dementia and Alzheimer’s disease. While dementia is the umbrella category, Alzheimer’s disease is the type of dementia. There are various dementia types besides Alzheimer’s, such as vascular dementia, Lewy bodies dementia, frontotemporal dementia, etc.


Ways of Communicating with a Dementia Patient

Let’s be honest; dementia can often trigger emotions such as anger, depression, sadness, anxiety, fear, etc, and it eventually becomes difficult and challenging to deal with in a longer span. This may cause distress and a feeling of isolation to your loved ones, especially when they can’t comfortably share their thoughts or the people around them don’t know how to understand them or what to say. While you and your loved ones are going through tough times like this, it’s better to concentrate on good communication to make things less stressful. Try to avoid these wordings and note that better communication is the key.


11 Things Not to Say to Someone with Dementia (Say these Instead)

1. ‘Don’t embarrass me’

Don’t embarrass me’

Remember that there’s no reason to feel embarrassed about your loved one dealing with dementia. It’s not their fault either. A gentle reminder that people living with dementia aren’t giving hard time-they are having a hard time.

Instead, try this:

If something triggered your loved one’s emotions which made them aggressive or behaved out of control in public, try to calm them in a soft voice and tell them that you forgot something and need them to help you by going back home. Don’t tell them that their behaviour is embarrassing you; even if you said it, it only worsens the situation.


2. ‘We Need to Hurry, Which Place do you want to See?’

We Need To Hurry

Try to stop posing open-ended questions which involve remembering facts and details. Even questions like what do you want to eat? Which shirt do you want to wear? It can cause distress and sadness to your loved ones as they feel they are forgetting things. Take things slowly, don’t make them panic by keeping them in hurriedness.

Instead, try this:

Ask questions that involve making choices, or they can answer with a simple yes or no. Take the pressure off your loved one by asking questions like do you want to wear a black or blue shirt? Or ask, would you like to see a movie with me?


3. ‘Why are you Doing that?’

'Why Are You Doing That'

While your dad or your friend with dementia is tearing up papers or picking at their skin and causing sores, note that people with Alzheimer’s or dementia often need tactile feedback. This means that they have a compulsion for their fingers to be doing something. So, don’t try to say why are you doing that?

Instead, try this:

Search for a lap pad or fiddle pad, which is mostly available online. This provides both tactile stimulations and keeps their fingers busy.


4. ‘Do you Remember when..?’

‘Do You Remember When..’

Bringing up past events can bring back joyful old memories. But asking questions like do you remember when..? can cause sadness and make them anxious. Obviously, the main symptom of dementia is forgetfulness and the expectation that they should remember could make them feel negative.

Instead, try this:

 Start conservation with ‘I remember when….’ or ‘I’d love to hear your favourite part ….’. They might take you on an interesting adventure if they remember or like to say something.


5. ‘This Dementia will Never go’

‘This Dementia Will Never Go


There are some things not to say to people living with dementia, and there are also things you should never say ‘about them’, especially in front of them. They might not respond but can understand and feel sad or angry.

Instead, try this:

 If you want to talk to relatives about your senior loved one condition, leave the room and discuss it in another place. Avoid causing them emotional pain by speaking as if they are already gone while they are still happily around.


6. ‘Stop asking Me the Same thing again and again’

‘Stop Asking Me the Same Thing Again and Again’

Practice patience with such people. Saying ‘I already told you’ can be a trigger which reminds them of their disease and confuse them.

Instead, try this:

 Repeat the same with politeness and note that their forgetfulness is not their fault.


7. ‘How can you not Remember Even your Spouse’s Death?’

‘How Can You Not Remember Even Your Spouse’s Death’

Your loved one might ask about their spouse or what they are doing, but saying ‘they passed away’ or ‘how can you forget your spouse’s death’ will hurt them, or they might not even believe you.

Instead, try this:

 When this situation arises, do whatever or respond in a way that doesn’t hurt them. Change the topic, distract them, or say they can see their spouse very soon who went on a vacation. Whatever it is, do what you feel best to make them happy and safe.


8. ‘You know Right, your Relatives Just Arrived. Let’s have Some Snacks and Nice Chit-Chat with them.’

‘You Know Right, Your Relatives Just Arrived. Let’s Have Some Snacks And Nice Chit-Chat With Them.’

Stop saying complex and long sentences which involve lots of commands. Your loved one with dementia might not process the information at the same rate.

Instead, try this:

 Use short sentences and simple language. Use single-step commands like ‘let’s meet your relatives’.


9. ‘Let’s go to walk, Honey’

‘Let’s Go to Walk, Honey’

Honey, love, dear, etc., words like these can make them feel inferior and can be patronising. Don’t treat them child-like.

Instead, try this:

Use their name, which makes them feel independent and which can help keep their dignity intact.


10. ‘Let me Say you the Truth’

‘Let Me Say You the Truth’

People with Alzheimer’s or dementia may experience a different version of reality. When you say the truth that is different from their reality and shows the real world, this can only cause negative emotions.

Instead, try this:

 Use the technique known as ‘therapeutic fibbing’ recommended by experts. This means that ‘stepping into someone’s realty isn’t the same as lying’. When you use this, you say white lies to your loved ones to validate their feelings.


11.‘You’re wrong, Stop Arguing with me’

‘You’re Wrong, Stop Arguing With Me’

Never say to your loved ones that they are wrong. Also, arguing with them won’t help.

Instead, try this:

 Try to distract, not disagree. Introduce something pleasant to change their focus and distract them.



These are some points that can help you not say hurtful things, even unintentionally, to someone with dementia. However, this is an inclusive and not an exhaustive list.



What should you not say to someone with dementia?

Try to say the positive words that make them feel safe, happy, and supported. Never say anything hurtful, or that can trigger negative emotions like anger or sadness.


Does dementia run in families?

There is a misconception that dementia can be passed on to generations. However, in rarer dementia types, this might be true. But, these are a small proportion of overall dementia cases.


How do you calm someone with dementia?

Take things slow and calm your loved one in a very soothing voice. Try to adjust their focus on pleasant things. Validate their feelings and try therapies like music, aromatherapy, pet therapy, etc.


Should you tell dementia patients the truth?

Dementia patients might experience a different version of reality. Telling the truth might cause negative emotions, then stick to the ‘therapeutic fibbing’ technique recommended by experts.