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Talking to someone with dementia

It’s a basic human need to be able to express yourself and be understood by other people.

But for people with dementia, communication can become harder. They might:

  • have trouble finding words, or say a related one instead of the one they mean
  • speak fluently but not make sense
  • have difficulty expressing their emotions
  • find reading and writing harder
  • ignore conversations or respond inappropriately
  • get frustrated with themselves and the people around them.

If someone you care about who lives with dementia is struggling with their communication, encourage them to seek professional support early. This includes having their hearing and sight checked, and possibly getting support from a speech therapist.

These are some tips and strategies to help you talk and connect with someone with dementia.

Tips for talking

A caring and positive attitude when speaking to a person with dementia can make a big difference. They may not always understand what is being said, but we still show our feelings through our body language, tone and actions.

Here are some ways you can help support your friend or family member when you’re talking with them.

Showing respect and understanding

  • Include the person in conversations. Speak directly to them, not just to the people around them.
  • Don’t assume what they can or can’t understand.
  • Use their name when you’re talking to them.
  • Be interested and ask questions.
  • Actively listen to what they’re saying. Put down your phone and try to ignore your mental to-do list.
  • Provide validation by accepting what they say. For example, if they think their kids are coming home from school, respond to their statement without contradicting them.


  • Speak calmly and clearly.
  • Use short sentences and share one idea at a time.
  • Allow time for the person to understand and respond.
  • Use names and relationships.
  • Draw simple pictures if you’re explaining something.
  • Ask simple, direct questions. Try yes/no questions, or offer just a few choices.

Using body language

  • Make eye contact. Show you’re listening by nodding and leaning in.
  • Express your feelings through gestures and facial expressions.
  • Hold their hands to show warmth.
  • Smile at them.

Creating the right environment

  • Get rid of competing noises like TV and radio.
  • Check that they’re paying attention before you start speaking.
  • Stay still while you talk.
  • Make sure all family members and carers communicate the same way.

Things to avoid

  • Avoid arguing with them.
  • Avoid asking questions that might alarm them or make them uncomfortable.
  • Don't order the person to do something. Make suggestions instead.
  • Don't ask for detailed memory responses, or insist on them trying to remember recent events.

Hearing loss and communication

Hearing loss is common in people with dementia, and it can affect how easy it is to communicate.

In this video, Adult Specialist Audiologist Catherine Hart explains how we hear, the warning signs and impacts of hearing loss, how hearing aids and other assistive devices can help, the importance of communication tactics, and how to access hearing services.

Dementia expert webinar: hearing and dementia, with Catherine Hart

Ways to connect

Communication goes beyond words and talking. It’s also an important way that we connect with each other. If your friend or family member is finding it difficult to talk to you, these are some ways you can maintain your connection.


Reflecting on past events can be rewarding. Even if your friend or family member can’t actively talk about the experience, reminiscing together can bring you both joy. However, always be sensitive to their reactions. If something upsets them, stop and do something else.


Music can be a great tool when words fail. Familiar songs can bring up memories and emotions. You could try playing music, singing or dancing together, or going to music concerts. For more on music, see our page Activities for people with dementia.

Making a memory book

Creating a memory book together is a wonderful activity. This visual diary captures the person’s life milestones. Here’s what to do:

  • Use a large photo album or a make digital version.
  • Keep it simple, with one topic and two or three images per page.
  • Use photos and add captions to prompt their memory. You could also include letters, certificates and drawings.
  • Include details about their family and friends, pets, their childhood, past holidays, places they lived, their job, hobbies, favourite music and special events.
Dementia expert webinar: communication problems in dementia, with Professor Kirrie Ballard

It’s okay to take care of your own health and happiness. If you're struggling as someone who cares for a person with dementia, contact the free, confidential National Dementia Helpline on 1800 100 500, any time of the day or night, for information, advice and support.

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Last updated
5 February 2024