While it can be challenging and emotionally taxing to have conversations with someone who has dementia, it is important to know what not to say to ensure comfort and respect. Here are a few key things not to say when talking to someone with dementia.
“Do you remember me?”
This question can be frustrating or upsetting for the person with dementia because they may feel embarrassed or ashamed if they don’t remember you. Instead of asking this question directly, try telling them who you are and providing some context around your relationship. This will allow them to recognise you without feeling as if they need to remember everything about you all at once.
“What did you do today?”
Asking this question can be difficult for someone with dementia because it may be difficult for them to recall the details of their day – especially if they have memory loss or difficulty understanding language. Try asking more open-ended questions instead, such as “How was your day?” as this allows them more flexibility in how they answer the question without feeling overwhelmed by trying to provide too much detail.
“You asked me that before”
When a person has dementia, they may be prone to repeating questions. While it might be frustrating for those around them, it’s a normal part of the condition, and in my view, there’s nothing to be achieved by telling someone with dementia that they asked you the same question five minutes ago. It will only serve to destroy their confidence and upset them. If they ask you the same question repeatedly, answer it as if you’re answering it for the first time. Remember, it’s not their fault.
“Don’t worry about it”
Telling someone not to worry about something might come off as dismissive or insensitive, especially for someone with dementia who may already feel anxious or confused about a situation. Instead of saying this phrase try offering support in other ways, such as providing reassurance or validating their feelings so that they know that their emotions are being heard and acknowledged rather than being dismissed out of hand.
How to have good conversations
Conversations with someone who has dementia can be stressful and challenging but there are ways that you can ensure that the conversation remains comfortable and respectful without causing any additional distress or confusion for the person with dementia. Avoiding phrases such as “do you remember me?,” “what did you do today?”, and “don’t worry about it” is a good start. Still, there are many other things that should also be avoided when talking to someone with dementia such as speaking too fast, using technical terms, making assumptions about what they know or understand, etc.
The most important thing when having conversations with someone who has dementia is patience – allow them time to process information before continuing on and offer support where needed so that everyone involved feels respected and valued during the conversation.