Essential tips for caring for a loved one with dementia


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Dementia Austraila

From having calm conversations to cultivating a caring attitude, follow these essential strategies for supporting loved ones with dementia

Dementia affects people in different ways and changes in communication are common. The person living with dementia may find it hard to express themselves clearly or to understand what others say. As the dementia progresses, communication can become more difficult. This can be frustrating, challenging and upsetting for the person living with dementia, as well as for their families and carers.

Each person with dementia is unique, and difficulties in communicating thoughts and feelings will vary from person to person. There are many causes of dementia, each affecting the brain in different ways.

Some changes may include:

  • Difficulty in finding a word or saying a related word instead.
  • Speaking fluently but not making sense.
  • Reduced or limited ability to understand what’s being said, or only following part of it.
  • Changes in reading and writing skills.
  • Loss of conversational social conventions, such as interrupting or ignoring someone talking, or not responding when spoken to.
  • Difficulty expressing emotions appropriately.

What to try

Caring attitude

While many people with dementia may not always understand what’s being said, they still have feelings and emotional responses. It is important to maintain their dignity and self-esteem.

Tips for conversation

  • Be calm and talk in a gentle, clear way.
  • Keep sentences short and simple, focusing on one idea at a time.
  • Always allow plenty of time for what you have said to be understood.
  • Be flexible and allow plenty of time for a response.
  • Consider using names and relationships to help the person, such as “Jack, your son”.
  • When you are trying to explain something, it can help to draw a simple picture or diagram.
  • Ask questions that require a yes/no response or involve a limited number of choices, to make it easier for the person to respond.

Body language

  • Use facial expressions and hand gestures such as pointing or demonstrating to make yourself understood.
  • Consider touching and holding hands to help maintain attention, and show warmth and affection.
  • Smile, as sharing a laugh can often communicate more than words.

Create the right environment

  • Try to avoid competing noises, such as TV or radio.
  • Try to keep still while you talk; if possible, stay in the person’s line of vision.
  • Maintain routines to help minimize confusion and assist communication.
  • To reduce confusion, encourage all family and carers to use the same communication approaches as each other and repeat messages in the same way.

Things to avoid

  • Arguing. It will only make the situation worse.
  • Ordering the person around.
  • Telling someone what they can’t do. Instead, suggest what they can do.
  • Being condescending. People can tell when a tone of voice is condescending, even if the words are not understood.
  • Asking direct questions that rely on a good memory for a response.
  • Talking about the person in front of them as if they are not there.
  • Negative body language. Sighs and raised eyebrows can easily be picked up.

The National Dementia Helpline

1800 100 500, webchat, email and

The National Dementia Helpline provides support and information to all Australians impacted by all forms of dementia, in any location across Australia. It’s available 24 hours a day, seven days a week, 365 days a year. No issue too big, no question too small.

Our highly trained dementia support specialists are here to support you and connect you to the services and information you need over the phone, via email or through our online chat function.  

No matter how you are impacted by dementia, or who you are, Dementia Australia is here for you.  

Visit Dementia Australia for more information

Anthony A1 small

Anthony Boffa

Anthony is currently the Chief Operating Officer for Dementia Australia having been with the organization for close to five years. Anthony’s roles before this cover over 20 years’ experience in the not-for-profit sector. Having worked for organizations providing services in the disability, home nursing, home aged care support and residential aged care sectors. Prior to his involvement in the not-for-profit space Anthony had a number of roles in the commercial sector covering transport, service industries and travel.

Anthony is a member of CPA Australia and holds a Master of Business Management. Currently Anthony is a Board member of Palliative Care South East and Windana Drug & Alcohol Recovery.

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