Mark and his mum chatting in the garden with tea

What not to say to somebody with dementia

A poor choice of language can be both hurtful and frustrating. Here we look at some words and questions to avoid using.

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For somebody living with dementia, language and communication can become more difficult over time.

How and when language problems develop will depend on the individual, as well as the type of dementia and the stage it is at. While the person living with the condition may have issues with recall or finding the right word, the words that other people use are important too. 

Good communication can be key to helping somebody to live well with dementia. Here are a few of the words and questions to avoid in conversation.

7 things not to say to somebody with dementia

1. 'Remember when...?'

While it can be tempting to try and jog the memory of somebody living with dementia, this kind of question is often a reminder of memories lost. This can be a frustrating or painful experience, and there’s also no evidence that training the brain in this way will help somebody hold on to memories. That’s not to say you should avoid talking about the past, but it’s better to lead the conversation and allow the person to join in.

Try this instead:

Instead of posing a question, try leading with ‘I remember when…’ instead. That way the person can search their memory calmly without feeling embarrassed, then join in if they like.

2. 'I've just told you that'

Having to answer the same question several times can be frustrating, but repetition will happen. There is little benefit to passing on your frustration to somebody with dementia, and saying ‘I’ve just told you that’ only reminds the person of their condition.

Try this instead:

Try to be polite and as patient as possible. It's important for somebody with dementia to feel they're being listened to and understood.

3. 'Your brother died 10 years ago'

A person living with dementia may forget about a past bereavement or ask for somebody who has passed away. But reminding them of a loved one's death can be painful, even causing them to relive the grief they've already experienced. How carers should respond to this may vary for different circumstances, but it's always good to show sensitivity.

Try this instead:

It may be better to come up with another reason for somebody's absence, while at other times a gentle reminder is appropriate. In the later stages of dementia, trying to remind them that the person has died is unlikely to work and may be best avoided.

Our dementia advisers are here for you.

4. 'What did you do this morning?'

Avoid asking too many open-ended questions, as it could be stressful for a person with dementia if they can’t remember the answer. While it might seem polite to ask somebody about their day, it’s better to focus on what’s happening in the present. It’s also important that people with dementia continue to make personal choices, but defining the options might be a helpful technique.

Try this instead:

Rather than ‘what would you like to drink?’, you could ask ‘do you want tea or coffee?’ or more simply, ‘do you want a cup of tea?’.

5. 'Do you recognise me?'

It can be distressing when somebody with dementia doesn’t recognise you, but remember that the feeling is mutual. Asking the person if they know who you are can make them feel guilty if they don't remember, or offended if they do.

Try this instead:

The way you greet somebody with dementia might change depending on the stage of their condition – judge for yourself, but keep it friendly. A warm hello could suffice, or it may help to say your name.

6. 'Let’s have a cup of tea now, then after that we can go for nice walk and get lunch in that café you like in town.’

Long, complex sentences can be difficult to grasp for somebody with dementia. It's difficult to process several ideas at once as cognitive abilities slow down, so it's better to give directions or instructions one step at a time.

Try this instead:

Use short, simple sentences as much as possible. Avoid speaking in loud environments and wait until you have the person’s full attention before you start a conversation.

7. 'Do you need some help with that, love?'

Words like ‘love’, ‘honey’ and ‘dear’ can be patronising for people living with dementia. This is sometimes referred to as ‘elderspeak’ and can cause older people to feel infantilised.

Try this instead:

Always remember the person behind the dementia, using their name as often as appropriate. This helps keep their dignity intact and aids concentration too.

Contact our National Dementia Helpline if you would like support from one of our advisers.

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222 comments

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Someone needs to tell everyone how tough it is to be the person who has the been told they have early onset dementia!!
I am that person....having the news at 68 years old. Your entire life that you have known for years is slowly going away...that short term and long term memory just disappears...makes one almost feel they should be invisible..until you are there you won't be able to understand that our life that we knew is no more. we just wonder when will this life continue in Heaven where our sun will shine!!

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Hello Catherine, and thanks for getting in touch.

We're really sorry to hear about your recent dementia diagnosis. This must be such a tough time for you.

Please know you can also call our Dementia Connect support line on 0333 150 3456 for advice, information or emotional support. Our dementia advisers are here to listen and provide support when you need them: https://www.alzheimers.org.uk/dementia-connect-support-line

Some people also find it helps to talk with other people who have gone through or are going through similar experiences. If you think this would help, you can visit our online community, Talking Point, for peer support: https://forum.alzheimers.org.uk/

In the meantime, we have a free guide that you might be interested in: 'The dementia guide: Living well after diagnosis'. The guide will help you to understand more about dementia and the treatments, support and services that are available. It includes information about how you can live as well as possible with dementia, and about making plans for the future. It's available to download as well as receive via post: https://www.alzheimers.org.uk/publications-about-dementia/the-dementia-…

We hope this is helpful, Catherine. Please do call our support line if you need someone to speak with.

All the best,

Alzheimer's Society blog team

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My brother has recently diagnosed dementia. His wife passed away in July. This has thrown him for a total loop, Doesn’t remember that she died and every day around 4:00 he begins to get anxious and tries to call her or wants to know where she s. It is devasting for him and for his family to tell him everyday that she is gone. Is their anyway we can avoid telling him again & again. Any suggestions will be appreciated

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This is great but if only it was printer friendly. Its just a narrow strip down the middle of the page and not great to print and share with my mum. It would be great if you could put a link to a pdf of this.

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Thanks for your feedback Sarah. Our site is designed to be mobile friendly as the majority of our readers view it on mobile phones, that's why it is in the single column layout. However we are hoping to add a printer friendly function soon.

Our dementia information pages are available as PDFs to print, you can download them by clicking 'Save this information' if you wish: https://www.alzheimers.org.uk/about-dementia/symptoms-and-diagnosis/sym…

Thank you

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Hello ,
First of all thank you for taking out time to read this ,
My grandad who is 78 of age
Is in the stages of dementia
He remembers who I am and who the members of the family are , but if you ask him what he ate In the morning he would have no idea ,
He has always been a gentleman,businessman a very strong character man ,
Now to see him like this is very heartbreaking because when I was young I used to see him as a very successful man,
He has travelled the world been everywhere,
But now he doesn't go anywhere just likes to be in his room and has no interest In the outside world.
He does not like taking a shower and has avoided it for some time ,
What is the best way round this
I am his grandson I am 26 years of age

I just feel like I’m not doing enough to help him ,

Any thoughts or opinions on how I could help him.
As he was there for me when I was a baby a teen.

Thank you once again
God bless.

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Hello FP,

Thanks for your comment. We're very sorry to hear about your grandad - this must be a really worrying time for you and your family.

Please know that you can always call our Dementia Connect support line on 0333 150 3456 for more information, advice and support specific to your grandad's situation. More details about the support line (including opening hours) is available here: https://www.alzheimers.org.uk/dementia-connect-support-line

We also have an online community, Talking Point, where carers and other people affected by dementia can share their experiences and receive peer support. This could be a great place for you to receive helpful suggestions from other people who have been in similar situations: https://www.alzheimers.org.uk/get-support/dementia-talking-point-our-on…

In the meantime, we have information on our website about daily living (including washing, bathing, dressing, etc) with lots of practical advice, which you may find useful: https://www.alzheimers.org.uk/get-support/daily-living

We hope this is helpful,
Alzheimer's Society blog team

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Many thanks for this page of communications as I am a health care assitant in a suggical ward, although we do not have many dementia patients but when we do I can gain many knowlegde and ways to care for them...

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Having had a father with dementia, I'd re-iterate ALL of the suggestions re communicting with them. They are vital suggestions. I note that in Care establishments and hospitals,unfortunately, many/most of the carers/nurses etc do use the wor "love" or even "darling" or "sweetie". This is seriously patronising and infantlising. It is SO important not to do this and also, I would add, importantly, NOT to talk over their heads, as tends to happen too (ie if two carers are walking with someone to help them). All the suggestions in this article are all extremely important for the well-being of the person with dementia and should be the focus of all trainings for carers/nurses, doctors, relatives..

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You are doing what a charity should do and are surely a model others could follow.

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Has anyone else got experience of dementia suffers having hallucinations, my 83 year old father who I care for is suffering from these on a frequent basis, he is convinced that there are people in his house, he keeps dragging chairs from room to room for them to sit on ?..

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My mother in law believes there are people living upstairs in her house. She also makes food for the children too.
Her eldest son is 70 and her youngest is 59.
She also is quite adamant she’s been out on journeys and walks.

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Your father believes that people are in the house. To him they are real. Acknowledge that he sees them and try distraction techniques. Confronting him, telling him they are not there or not real will distress him. He probably has a type of dementia that produces hallucinations. Talk to the GP as medication may be able to help.

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Hi, My father had some hallucinations - he said there was a black cat in the house. It was not ongoing just a few times. We told him it was ok and that the cat was doing no harm. He seem happy with that.
I've met people living with dementia who have ongoing hallucinations and what I've heard dementia advisors say is to acknowledge what the person is seeing. Your response can go someway in reassuring the person seeing the hallucinations that its ok to ignore the 'visitors' because they will eventually go away. Sometimes if its impacting on the person with dementia life in a negative way or it's a frightening hallucination then it might be helpful to seek your doctors/health care worker for advice. I think dismissing what the person is seeing is never a good thing.

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My 83 year old mum who has Alzheimer’s was doing exactly the same saying there were people coming and going in the house, asking for us to stop inviting them round and even shouting at my elderly father when he didn’t offer them a cup of tea or make a meal for them. It was very distressing for her and making her very agitated which was upsetting to see and meant my dad couldn’t cope. I contacted our community psychiatric nurse who said we needed to check that my mum didn’t have a UTI infection as this can make the Alzheimer’s worse (she didn’t) so they tweaked her medication and the hallucinations have stopped. My mum is now in residential care due to her deterioration and my dad’s inability to care for her at home any more.

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Hi, this sounds very similar to how my dad is suffering and I am quite concerned at my 72 year old mother is not coping with caring for him . Could you advise how best to get my dad in a residential home where he can have the right treatment? I fear that the current Covid impact will delay matters and in the mean time I’m concerned by my mums mental health

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Hello Samina,

We'd recommend taking a look at our advice on 'Care homes: When is the right time and who decides?' - https://www.alzheimers.org.uk/get-support/help-dementia-care/care-homes… There's information and advice here that may help you and your parents during this difficult time.

Additionally, you can call our Dementia Connect support line on 0333 150 3456 for information and advice on residential care. Our dementia advisers are here to listen and provide support when you need them: https://www.alzheimers.org.uk/dementia-connect-support-line

We hope this is helpful, Samina.

Alzheimer's Society blog team

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Yes my dad suffered from hallucinations often during his later stages. He would see things that weren’t there and often times in the evening he would not recognize his wife of almost 60 years and would call me and ask me to come get him and take him home. It was tough on mom and so sad to talk with him about.

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There is a type of dementia called Lewy Body dementia. The main differentiator between it and Alzheimer's is that with Lewy Body the patient has hallucinations. Sometimes patients with Alzheimer's develop Lewy Body dementia as well. The hallucinations are usually people standing silently. Patients often recognize the people and will converse with them. It is very unnerving when it first happens. It helps if you understand that Lewy Bodies are actual small structures in the brain. Researchers think the structures trigger memories in the brain and this activates vision so the patient actually sees the person they remember. If you ask the patient they can describe these hallucinations clearly. It can be very upsetting for relatives if the patient is "seeing" people who are deceased, however it is often comforting to the patient particularly if they "see" a deceased partner.

So what do you do? I would get your dad to ask them if they want to sit down. You may find that this is enough to avoid him moving furniture. You could also say something like "they don't need to sit dad, they had a long car or bus ride so they want to stretch". Good luck with it!

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There are no hard or fast rules each case is unique anything done for them is appreciated as long as they are still blessed with some scruples.

Dennis GILL diagnosed with vascular dementia 2 years ago

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Hi my mam has become extremely forgetful, especially short term memory She is also repeating herself it’s sad frustrating & scary all rolled into one ☹️
I know my language needs to change as soon as I say or ask a Q I then feel so guilty because I am not using the best language, your advice on here is brill thank you but anything else you can recommend would be really appreciated 🙏 the last few days have been really frustrating around her medication I do not want to treat her like a child ☹️ I know she is terrified of becoming unwell as her grandma she grew up with had bad dementia. I actually have a nursing background but at times find this overwhelming x

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A close relative is convinced that situations have happened recently that are impossible. The people involved have passed on some 46 years ago. But he is 100% convinced this has happened and is not backing away from that thought. He is positive this event took placed a few days ago. He is aware the people that are involved have passed on some 40 - 50 years ago. but to him this event occurred a few days ago. He is 100% aware of what the current state of America, His age, current date, his surrounding, and most importantly, who we all are and knows who he is and that he is loved tremendously and can count on use for anything he needs. Except for this one issue which we all expect is probably going to happen more frequently during the upcoming years and is probably going to get worse.
Has anyone had anything like this happen that may help to shed some light on what would be the preferred method of working through this. Not so much on my end but for my relative.
Thank you so much for any input received. This is all new to me so I am at the point that it is the best time for helping and learning what to do and how to do for everyone concerned with this situation.
Thank you in advance to everyone providing any recommendations, information, or advice. I appreciate it. Thank youj

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Hi Tom, we had a similar problem with my father, he was up to speed with everything except he believed that his wife (my mother) was still alive but had left him for someone else (she died in 1999) . He sometimes called her all sorts of awful names which, as you can probably imagine, was very distressing for myself and my brothers. After trying lots of approaches to the problem, including reminding him she was dead (which made him react as if he had been punched but 10 minutes later he’d forgotten and would start over) we have jointly decided the ‘least worst’ option-there isn’t a best option-is to just let him say or think what he wants, and just be non committal. Whatever you say, he will forget what you have said very quickly. Hope this helps and sorry I cannot offer a long term answer. Good luck

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Hello everyone, I would really appreciate some advice as i dont know what to do anymore regarding my grandmother. I live in a household with my sister, my mother, father and grandmother. Me and my sister work remotely so were in our rooms most of the day working and trying to focus as it is quiet in our rooms. My father is her primary caretaker(his mom) and my mother does so much for her as well. We are not trained to handle someone with dementia and its progressing really bad. My Grandmother packs all her clothes everyday to try to leave the house. She has fell down the stairs before and has gotten violent, forgotten who we were at times and stares at the wall in confusion. Its very sad and i don't think we are well equipped or sadly have the patience to deal with it. My father lashes out and gets angry so many times and even yells which i know is very bad for her. We all love her very much and its so sad for us to see this happen to her. My sister and I have suggested putting her in a home that specializes in caring for senior citizens with dementia because we think she will have a better quality of life. My dad is more old school and rather have her stay with us although her quality of life is terrible and it pains me to see her live like this. She literally stares at the wall everyday and there is alot of arguing in the household and its not a very loving environment which is why my sister and I tend to stay in our rooms. Any advice would be greatly appreciated. Are we wrong in suggesting that we move her to a home? I want to reiterate that her primary caretakers do not know how to take care of her. When my grandma ask about her mom or says shes going to her moms house, they flatout tell her that her mom is dead and sometimes in a bad tone. I dotn want to paint my father as a bad person, he is her only child and i know it is a heavy burden for him along with so many other problems going on. I apologize for the long message. Thank you for taking the time to read this.

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Hi Michael, thanks for getting in touch.

This sounds like a complex and difficult situation, so we'd really recommend talking to a dementia adviser for some information, support and advice. You, or one of your relatives, can do this by calling our Dementia Connect support line on 0333 150 3456: https://www.alzheimers.org.uk/get-support/national-dementia-helpline

The choice of when somebody should move into residential care can be very difficult. We have some advice on our website here which you may find helpful to read: https://www.alzheimers.org.uk/get-support/help-dementia-care/care-homes…

There are lots of things to consider here, and it sounds like you could do with some support. So please do give the support line a call for some ideas which may help, or just to talk about the situation with your grandmother.

Hope this is helpful, Michael.

Alzheimer's Society blog team

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My mum is in a care home with advanced dementia just had a conversation with a neighbor of my mum who asked how my mums mind is I was very upset

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My 88 year old mother has been living with us since lockdown (March 16, 2020). Her dementia has been progressing since then. She has been confused for the most part asking to go home which means her apartment. She had started wondering around, 8 times in one month. i have to call the police twice. It has not happen recently because we have double locked all our doors but i see every morning that she tries. The first lock is always unlocked. It has been so frustrating and stressful. My biggest challenge is my mom sleeps in the main floor of our house and we all sleep upstairs. I don't have a spare room for her to sleep upstairs and most of all I have steep stairs. She wonders around the house at night and makes me worry she might fall or slip one day when trying to go up or down. It was fine in the beginning but now she wants to sleep with me upstairs on our bed. I tell her no and every time she asks it makes me feel so bad but I have to stand by my grounds. I tell her "you are already in our house. There is nothing to worry about. You are safe here". Almost everyday is the same scenario. I don't know what to do. Please help.

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Hi Vicky, thanks for your comment.

I'm sorry to hear that your mother's dementia has progressed - this sounds like a really difficult situation for you.

We have some advice on our website that you may find helpful. In particular, these pages on why somebody with dementia may walk about and how you can help keep them safe: https://www.alzheimers.org.uk/about-dementia/symptoms-and-diagnosis/wal…

As you've mentioned feeling bad about having to stand your ground, you may also find this page on guilt helpful - and how to manage those feelings while caring for somebody: https://www.alzheimers.org.uk/blog/guilt-dementia-how-manage-guilty-fee…

I hope these links are helpful, Vicky. But if you need more support, please also know that you can call our Dementia Connect support line on 0333 150 3456. By calling this number you'll be able to speak to a trained dementia adviser who can learn more about your situation and give tailored information, advice and support: https://www.alzheimers.org.uk/get-support/national-dementia-helpline

Hope this helps,

Alzheimer's Society blog team

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Hi, it may be worth looking up the Herbert Protocol. It is aimed at identifying people who are at risk and vulnerable if they do 'wander off' out into the community with the local emergency services. You provide them with a description of the persona and information about where they are likely to go etc to assist in locating them quickly.
https://www.bing.com/search?q=herbert+protocol+dementia&FORM=R5FD3

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How should you react as a caregiver when an Alzheimer’s patient fights with you about taking a shower, telling you that they have already showered that day? Do you correct them?

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Hi Ashley, thanks for your comment.

We have some advice on our website about washing and bathing which you may find helpful, particularly this page on when somebody with dementia is relucant to wash:
https://www.alzheimers.org.uk/get-support/daily-living/when-someone-dem…

If you're still having difficulties, then we recommend calling our Dementia Connect support line on 0333 150 3456. One of our dementia advisers will be able to learn more about your experience and give ideas, advice and support. You can read more about the support line (including opening hours) here: https://www.alzheimers.org.uk/get-support/national-dementia-helpline

Hope this is helpful,

Alzheimer's Society blog team

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My father in law has dementia/Alzheimer’s and his daughter told him to the lawyer and had him change his will in her favor. He sounds normal at certain times so can the will chance be contested due to his illness

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Hi Ruth, I'm very sorry to hear about your father-in-law.

It would be best to contact our Dementia Connect support line on 0333 150 3456 to discuss the specifics of the situation. One of our advisers will be able to offer guidance. Please feel free to give us a call when it is convenient.

More details on our phone support (including opening hours) are available here: https://www.alzheimers.org.uk/get-support/national-dementia-helpline

Alzheimer's Society blog team

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