We welcomed Mary Byrne, a Speech and Language Therapist to the Cafe this month.

Mary spoke to us about some of the challenges that can arise when communicating with a person who has a diagnosis of dementia. Improving our communication skills and understanding how we can support a person with dementia’s communication not only improves communication itself, but it is likely to make caregiving less stressful and improve the quality of the relationship. Good communication skills also enable a caregiver to better get to the root of something that may be troubling the person with dementia and impacting their mood and/or behaviour.

Top Tips:

  • Set a positive mood – body language and attitude communicate feelings even more strongly than words. Speaking in a pleasant and respectful manner (facial expressions, tone of voice) and physical touch show feelings of affection.


  • Get the person’s attention – Turn off the TV, radio and limit distractions. Make eye contact with the person and address them by name. If the person is seated, come down to their level so that you can communicate face to face.


  • Speak simply and clearly – Use simple words and sentences. Speak slowly, distinctly and reassuringly. Try not to raise your voice – it can help to consciously pitch your voice lower than normal. Use names and pronouns rather than he/she/it/the thingamajig!


  • Ask simply, direct and easily answered questions – Yes/No questions work best.
    • Be specific, not “Would you like a drink” but “Would you like a cup of tea?“, “Would you like a coffee?“.
    • Try not to give too many choices and where possible illustrate your choices – for example, at lunchtime, open the fridge and point to the ham and chicken as you ask “Would you like a ham sandwich or a chicken sandwich?”
    • Avoid complex sentences and questions with lots of parts


  • Be patient and listen with ears and eyes – watch for non-verbal cues and body language


  • Break down activities into series of steps – use visual cues were possible


  • Distract and redirect if the person you are speaking with get frustrated or agitated
    • Do NOT argue – it does not help communication and it will not get either of you anywhere.
    • Validate their feelings “I see that you are angry (upset, sad, etc…..). It let’s the person know that they are not alone and you can then redirect them to another thought.


  • Avoid focusing on something that the person with dementia is getting wrong
    • the gist is good enough, the story does not have to be perfectly accurate
    • Try to avoid saying “No …..” or “Remember…….”