A little support makes a big difference

Communicate clearly with me

It’s important for healthcare professionals to remember that people living with dementia have unique requirements when it comes to communication.

Dementia makes it harder for people to concentrate and they may be unable to hold multiple ideas in their minds during conversation. Unfortunately, the distractions and stresses that often occur with hospital admissions or group care settings can make communication more difficult.

Here are some helpful tips for speaking to people living with dementia that can make communication much more effective.

Talk with the person

Don’t assume that people living with dementia can’t understand you, and that you need to talk to their carer, family member or friend instead. This is a form of discrimination which can make the person feel excluded and isolated and may make the person less open to communicate with you.

Be calm and gentle

Always talk in a calm and gentle manner and be caring and empathetic. Don’t be patronising or get frustrated with the person – even if they have trouble understanding what you say, they will pick up on your tone of voice.

Speak clearly

Speak clearly and avoid complicated language and jargon. It helps to use short sentences, communicating only one idea at a time. Breaking down information and providing it in smaller chunks can also help the person to process it more easily. Closed questions (with yes/no answers) with a focused context will usually be easier for the person to understand – such as “Wasn’t it nice and sunny on our walk yesterday?”

Connect with the person’s carer

It can be helpful to separately connect and communicate important information to the person’s carer. This will enable the person to clarify important medical information with someone they know and trust. Ask the person’s carer for helpful information that can support positive communication.

Minimise distractions and disruptions

It’s important to get rid of potential distractions and disruptions when speaking with people living with dementia, to make sure they can concentrate. Avoid moving around while speaking to the person – sit still and stay in their line of vision. Make sure the TV or radio is switched off and there are no competing conversations within earshot.

Want to learn more about dementia? Go to our Resources section for guides, help sheets, videos and other resources.

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The National Dementia Helpline is a free service that provides information and advice to all people who would like to know more about dementia or access services and support.

Dementia Australia’s national library service offers print and digital resources about dementia. Explore information related to these tips by accessing the library guide.