Dementia Communication Tips: What NOT to Say

A woman hugs her elderly mother and smiles as she benefits from the effective dementia communication tips she has learned.
These dementia communication tips will help you understand what not to say and provide some effective alternatives.

Have you ever said the wrong thing? Maybe your objective was to compliment a friend on her new haircut, but you came across sounding like you were criticizing her previous hairstyle. Choosing our words carefully is always important, but even more so when talking to someone with dementia. The words we say and the way we say them can greatly impact the person’s emotional well-being and quality of life, making it vitally important to know and utilize effective dementia communication tips.

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

  1. “You don’t have dementia.” Minimizing or denying their condition can result in feelings of confusion and isolation. It’s crucial to acknowledge their reality while offering reassurance and support. 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, no matter what comes our way.”
  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 have heard the information. This tactic 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. “Do you remember…?” Asking someone with dementia to recall specific details can lead to 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 participate in the conversation without feeling pressured to remember specific details.
  4. “You’re wrong.” Invalidating a person’s thoughts or memories can 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.
  5. “You are being difficult.” Labeling their behavior as challenging or difficult can escalate tension and hinder effective communication. Instead, approach them with kindness and understanding. Identify the underlying emotions or needs driving their behavior and respond with empathy and patience. For example, say, “I can see that you’re feeling frustrated. Let’s take a moment to determine how we can make things better together.”

Communication can become very challenging as dementia progresses. Let our highly trained, knowledgeable dementia care specialists help. Contact us online or give us a call at 213-383-2273 for more information on our specialized dementia care in West Los Angeles, Santa Monica, Beverly Hills, and the surrounding areas. We understand the unique needs of individuals living with dementia and are dedicated to providing thoughtful care that promotes dignity and quality of life.