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Supporting communication with people living with dementia

Maintaining meaningful conversations with family and friends is vital to living well with dementia.
By Naomi Folder*

Many people living with dementia, and their families and friends, find that communication changes over time and conversations can become more challenging.

People living with dementia may find it difficult to:

  • Find the right word to say
  • Stay on topic during long conversation
  • Follow longer instructions
  • Remember key details from a conversation
  • Maintain attention during conversation, especially in noisy or busy environments
  • Get their message out in the way they intended.

Communication changes can be frustrating for both the person living with dementia and their family and friends. Such changes may cause people to withdraw from social events. Family members may not know what to do to support the person’s communication.

What can families do to support someone’s communication?

There are many strategies that families and friends can use to support people living with dementia.

Here are four tips that may be helpful for the person living with dementia:

  • Set up the conversation for success
    The environment can either support or hinder good conversation. Help the person focus on the conversation by minimizing background noise, finding a quiet room, or turning off the TV. Using pictures or writing key points can also help people to follow conversation.
  • Be mindful of your body language
    Non-verbal communication, like body language, gestures, eye contact, and facial expression, are key aspects of communication. Approach conversation in a positive way, using positive tone and facial expressions. You can also use gestures to support your key message.
  • Support the person’s involvement in the conversation
    As the communication partner, you can help the person to participate better during conversations. This could mean picking enjoyable topics, or giving the person support when they have trouble remembering events. The goal of conversation should be to connect and share experiences, rather than to test the person’s memory.
  • Know what works for the person living with dementia.
    Ask the person living with dementia what strategies work best for them. For example, they may find it helpful if you suggest a word when they have trouble thinking of the right word.

Which strategies work best?

Speech pathologists can identify the most helpful strategies for you and your family member. They can help you practice these strategies and provide feedback on what works well.

*Naomi Folder is a speech pathologist and PhD Candidate at University of Technology Sydney. Her PhD project is working to create an online training program for families of people with dementia, to help people learn effective communication strategies for conversation. This project is undertaken in collaboration with people living with dementia, family members, and speech pathologists. For more information about this program and how to sign up, email


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