Tips for Communicating with Someone With Dementia

Getting your MESSAGE Across


A diagnosis of dementia can be a scary pronouncement in anyone’s life. Whether you have received the diagnosis, or you are a family member or part of a person’s care circle who has received a diagnosis, you are likely to have many questions about the road ahead. There is so much information to absorb and you may be looking at where to start.


Speech pathology can play an important part in your support team. Speech pathologists work in three main areas with clients who have a diagnosis of dementia.



Photo by Danie Franco on Unsplash


1. Support memory function

  1. We help with ideas and strategies to preserve personal memories through journaling and story-telling

  2. We can assist in setting up systems to reduce the client’s cognitive and pressure on their executive functioning system with tools such as diaries, schedules and reminders for routine activities


2. Support communication by helping our clients and their family and friends implement

successful tips and strategies for communication that maintain the client’s self-esteem

and quality of life while living with dementia (Conway & Chenery, 2016)


3. Support safe swallowing - clients with dementia often experience a decline in their

ability to successfully coordinate their swallowing mechanism. A weak or uncoordinated

swallow places a client at risk for complications such as aspiration of food and fluids

which can lead to chest infections and a whole host of health complications. As speech

pathologists, we assess our client’s swallowing abilities and assist them with managing

risks related to their swallowing.


Here are some fantastic tips and strategies to facilitate communication with the people in your life who are living with dementia and get your MESSAGE across:


MAXIMISE attention

  1. Attract attention - use the person’s name, move to their eye level, maintain eye contact

  2. Avoid distractions - turn off the background noise and move to a quiet place

  3. Make sure only one person at a time is speaking

  4. Give your communication partner your full attention


EXPRESS yourself through your body language

  1. Stay relaxed and calm

  2. Show that you’re interested by leaning forwards and nodding your head when it’s appropriate


SIMPLIFY your language without talking down to your communication partner

  1. Use short, simple, direct sentences

  2. Use familiar words

  3. Use specific words rather than general terms such as ‘she’, ‘it’, ‘there’

  4. Use questions with yes and no answers

  5. Suggest choices to help them express their needs and wants


SUPPORT their conversation

  1. Give them time

  2. Help them find a word by suggesting a word or asking “Do you mean__?”

  3. Repeat then rephrase

  4. Remind them of the topic by clearly mentioning the topic of your conversation, repeating the topic throughout the conversation and making it clear when you change the topic


ASSIST with visual AIDS

  1. Use gestures and actions

  2. Use objects and pictures

  3. Use written words if the person is able to write


GET their message

  1. Listen

  2. Watch

  3. Work it out by piecing together their words and non-verbal cues

  4. Consider their likes and dislikes, experiences and interests


ENCOURAGE and ENGAGE in communication

  1. Use photos and memorabilia to talk about interesting and familiar topics

  2. Talk about family and friends

  3. Don’t ask test questions

  4. Don’t argue if they seem confused

  5. Acknowledge feelings, give reassurance and move on


Newcastle Speech Pathology supports clients with dementia and their families as they navigate the path ahead. We’re here to help.


MESSAGE communication strategies in dementia, University of Queensland 2009


Conway, E. R., & Chenery, H. J. (2016). Evaluating the MESSAGE Communication Strategies in Dementia training for use with community-based aged care staff working with people with dementia: a controlled pretest-post-test study.


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