Dementia Care: Communicating with Compassion

Two women hug and show support, a key aspect of communicating with compassion in dementia care.
Communication challenges are common in dementia care.


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 in dementia care. The words we say along with the way we say them can significantly impact the person’s emotional well-being and quality of life.

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

“You don’t have dementia.” Denying or minimizing their condition can result in feelings of confusion and isolation. It’s essential to acknowledge their reality while offering support and reassurance. Express empathy and assure them that you’re there to help navigate any challenges they may face. You could say, “I’m here to support you through this journey, no matter what comes our way.”

“Do you remember…?” Asking someone with dementia to recall specific details may 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 instance, say, “I remember when we went to that restaurant together. It was such a wonderful evening,” allowing them to engage in the conversation without feeling pressured to recall specific details.

“You just told me that.” Continuously pointing out their forgetfulness can be counterproductive and hurtful. Instead, practice patience and respond as if it’s 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.

“You’re wrong.” Invalidating a person’s memories or thoughts can cause distress and frustration. Rather than dismissing their reality, validate their feelings and experiences. For example, 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.

“You’re being difficult.” Labeling their behavior as challenging or difficult can increase 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 are feeling frustrated. Why don’t we take a moment to determine how we can make things better together.”

Communication can become very challenging as dementia progresses. Let our highly trained, experienced dementia care specialists help. Contact us online or give us a call at 1-800-578-4554 for more information on our specialized care for individuals with dementia in Poughquag, Brewster, Carmel, and the surrounding areas. We understand the unique needs of people living with dementia and are dedicated to providing thoughtful care that promotes dignity and quality of life.

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