Dementia is more than just memory loss. It is a collection of symptoms affecting thinking, memory, language, and behaviour. A person with Dementia may have difficulty completing everyday tasks like reading, writing, expressing emotions, finding words when talking, and participating in conversations. Dementia is not a normal part of ageing. Rather, it is caused by brain disease. It is totally normal to feel unsure how to communicate with a person with Dementia. This is because Dementia affects people differently, so there is no “rule book” that tells you what to do or say. Also, Dementia is a progressive illness so what works one day, might not work the next day. In this article, I will share some tips on how to talk to a person with Dementia, based on current research evidence. I hope you find it helpful.

What is a communication partner?

I like this definition of a ‘communication partner’ from Speech Pathology Australia: “A communication partner is anyone who talks or interacts with you. Communication is always a two-way process. Both people involved in a communicative interaction are responsible for successful communication. For a person with communication difficulties, their communication partner is even more important.”

This definition makes it clear that YOU have an important role to play when you talk to a person with Dementia. You can provide encouragement and support, to overcome communication barriers and have a successful conversation.

How to talk to a person with Dementia

Here are 8 evidence-based tips for how to talk to a person with Dementia. Which of these could you try out today?

  1. Keep calm.
  2. Talk about one thing at a time. It helps to keep the topic of the conversation clear. Avoid taking the conversation on tangents.
  3. Speak slowly. Allow the person with Dementia time to think.
  4. Repeat important information. You don’t need to be condescending about it. You can just say the point again in another way, to highlight how important that information is.
  5. Try to keep the conversation moving forward. If the person with Dementia is repeating something they’ve already said, it is okay to say (in a friendly manner) that you’ve discussed that before and right now you’d like to talk about _____.
  6. For important discussions, try to reduce distractions. Move to a quiet location. Turn off the TV or radio.
  7. Write down key points. You can do this during a conversation, such as writing down the current topic, which helps the person with Dementia stay in the moment. Or you can write down key points at the end of a conversation, so that the person can remember what you discussed. This tip will depend on how well the person is functioning.
  8. Know that perfection is impossible. Your kindness and your effort to have a good interaction is good enough.

Know that perfection is impossible. Your kindness and your effort to have a good interaction is good enough.

A resource to keep you on track when you talk to a person with Dementia:

If you are in the habit of speaking quickly, or jumping around in conversation, or if you have a tendency to be impatient, you might find it challenging to implement these communication partner tips! I suggest you select a couple of tips to try out when you next talk to your loved one with Dementia. Also, give yourself a pat on the back for trying. Pay attention to what worked or didn’t work, and then try again next time.

You might find it helpful to download this image with the list of tips, and stick it somewhere you can see it (the fridge is a good spot!).


Where to go for more information: