Living Well with Dementia - The Power of Communication

Written by: Sue Goldsmith, RMN

Communication is something that we all do, every day, often without being conscious of it. We communicate with our words, our faces, our bodies and with our mood.

So, how would we feel if just one of those ways of communicating was taken away from us? How would we react? For people living with dementia, their ability to communicate using the spoken word can be affected as they progress through their journey with dementia.

This can lead to feelings of failure and frustration – it can also cause the person to lose confidence, which can lead to them being reluctant to speak for fear of appearing stupid.

The spoken word makes up only a very small percentage of our overall methods of communicating, yet the impact of this when taken away from us can be huge.

Trying to see this from the perspective of the person living with dementia can help us to understand the best way to support them. We aren’t able to prevent speech from deteriorating but if we can consider how the person might be feeling, we may be able to find other ways to support communication and prevent them from feeling like they are failing.

So, what can we do?

Be patient and give the person time. If a person is trying to find the right words, they will be putting enough pressure on themselves to do this. If they see that you are getting impatient or are hurrying them for an answer or to get their words out, the pressure intensifies. The likely outcome of this is that they will end up telling you something, but not necessarily what they set out to say.

Make sure there are no other distractions. Setting the scene for a conversation is important as it can give the person living with dementia the best opportunity to communicate to you effectively. Make sure there are no distractions in the room for either of you. This means that if the TV is playing or the radio is on loud, or if another conversation is happening in the same room amongst other family members, the person may not be able to fully concentrate and find the right words. You also need to make sure that you are in a position to give the person your full attention. If you are in the middle of a task that can wait, then put it aside and focus on the person. There is nothing more devaluing to any of us than getting the impression that the other person isn’t interested in what we have to say.

Don’t be tempted to finish the sentence for the person. We all know that one person who finishes our sentences for us, and how irritating do we find this?! For a person living with dementia, not only may it cause irritation, but they may not be able to express their irritation verbally. This may cause them to express it in other ways such as in an outburst of frustration (which can upset both of you) or they might just give up trying to speak and become withdrawn. Be conscious of your own facial expressions, body language and speech as these can convey feelings of encouragement or, conversely impatience and can have a big impact on whether the person feels you want to hear what they have to say.

Look for the meaning and feelings behind the words. Sometimes a person living with dementia might get their words mixed up or may not be able to find the right words. It might cause more frustration and upset if you are continually telling the person that you don’t understand; after all, there is a chance that what they are saying is making perfect sense to them. Instead try to focus on how the person is feeling. If the words don’t make sense but their facial expression or their tone are telling you that they seem worried then respond to the feeling. Offering reassurance based on what they are feeling is often enough to let the person know that you understand what they need at that time.

Look out for key words. I once worked with a lady who never told me that she needed to go to the toilet, instead she told me that she needed to go the post box. I knew this was her way of telling me she needed the loo and therefore I was able to support her appropriately. Again, this might take a little time to figure out and the words may be completely out of context, but looking out for and getting to know key words and their meanings can be incredibly helpful.

Seek other ways to help with communication. There are many practical solutions to the deterioration of speech on the market and therefore shop around for the ones that suit you and your loved ones. Simple solutions like having pens and paper located around the house or small whiteboards can help if the person is still able to read and write. If this isn’t practical, then try pictorial prompts. Having a handful of cards that the person can choose in order to tell you what they want can help to reduce levels of frustration.

Never underestimate the power of communication and remember that speech is only one small method by which we connect with others. A person’s ability to experience feelings isn’t affected by their ability to speak – we can always make others feel good about themselves, regardless of their abilities!

Dementia Care at Bluebird Care Lewes District, Brighton & Hove


Bluebird Care Lewes District, Brighton & Hove can provide experienced staff to help you maintain your quality of life while remaining in your own home. We create a specialised dementia care plan with you. This might include:

  • Reminding or helping you to take your medicines to manage your symptoms
  • Support with bathing and/or dressing to keep you looking your best
  • Catheter care and continence management to maintain your dignity and comfort
  • Help to establish a regular exercise routine to improve mood and mobility and to strengthen muscles
  • Making sure you have plenty of fluids and a balanced diet with enough fresh fruit and vegetables and fibre to keep you healthy and avoid constipation
  • Assisting with routine household chores and shopping so your home life is as you would like it to be
  • Companionship, or helping you to be involved in social activities.

Our dementia home care and live-in care services provide the support and care you need to get you and your loved ones through the difficult days.

Get in touch with our friendly team to discuss your care requirements; call us on 01273 022055.

How to find the right care for you or your relative

1. Find your local office

Bluebird Care delivers care from locally based offices, find yours to start your care journey today.

2. Get in touch with us

Fill in our call back form or give us a call to find out how we can help you.

3. Assessment

We’ll come out to you to find out what you or your loved one needs to help stay independent at home.

4. Care team chosen & care starts

You'll be cared for by our specially trained team to support you to remain at home for as long as possible.

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