Mark and his mum chatting in the garden with tea

What not to say to somebody with dementia

Words can be helpful and uplifting, but also hurtful and frustrating depending on the situation. Here, we look at some words and questions to try to avoid when talking to a person with dementia.

For a person living with dementia, language and communication can become more difficult over time. The type of difficulties a person will face as dementia progresses will be different for each individual.

The type and stage of the person's dementia will also be a factor. While the person living with the condition may have difficulties with finding the right word, the words that other people use are important too.

Good communication can be key to helping the quality of life for the person with dementia. Here are a few of the words and questions it may be best to avoid in conversation.

7 things to avoid saying 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 may highlight the fact that the person has memory problems.  It can also sometimes feel like the person is being tested.

This can be a frustrating or painful experience, and there’s also no evidence that prompting the person in this way will help them to recall or hold on to memories. It can be pleasant and comforting to talk about the past, however, it’s usually more helpful 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…’. 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'

It can be difficult answering the same question several times, especially when you are trying to keep frustration or upset from your voice.

However, reminding the person that you have just answered their question will not help them retain the information for next time, it is likely to just remind them of their condition. This can be distressing for you both. Bear in mind, that for them, it is likely to feel like the first time they have asked the question.

Try this instead:

Try to remember that the person cannot help repeating themselves. It is important for them to feel heard and understood.

Answer repeated questions calmly and patiently, with an even tone of voice. If you feel the need, take a break, and remove yourself from the conversation for a while.

3. 'Your brother died 10 years ago'

A person living with dementia may forget about a past bereavement or ask for somebody who has died. Reminding them of a loved one's death can be very painful, and they may react as though hearing the news for the first time all over again.

How to respond to these types of difficult questions will vary for different people in different circumstances, however, it's always important to show sensitivity and minimise any distress.

Try this instead:

For some people, encouraging them to talk about the person they are asking about can be comforting.  Distraction techniques can be useful, although try not to avoid the question if they keep asking, as this can cause the person to feel more anxious.

Find out how the person is feeling, sometimes asking about a particular family member or friend is due to the person having an unmet need, such as wanting comfort or reassurance.

Our dementia advisers are here for you.

4. 'What did you do this morning?'

Avoid asking too many open-ended questions about the past, 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.

Try this instead:

Instead of asking them about their day, speak briefly about your day and give them time to ask you questions about it.

They might then offer information about what they have done. Talk to them about the present and use items in the environment such as photos or ornaments to stimulate conversation.

5. 'Do you recognise me?'

It can be distressing when somebody with dementia doesn’t recognise you, especially if you have a close relationship with them. Remember that it is likely to be upsetting for them to not recognise people around them too.

Asking the person if they know who you are can make them feel guilty or anxious 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 and your relationship to them each time.

6. 'Let’s have a cup of tea now, then after that we can go for nice walk and get lunch and something else to drink in that café you like next to the big church 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 too much in loud or busy environments, and wait until you have the person’s full attention before you start. During a conversation, give the person enough time to process what you are saying.

7. 'I'll just help you use your little spoon there, love?'

‘Elderspeak’ - which can involve talking in a high-pitched voice, using words like ‘love’ or ‘deary’, and generally speaking to the person like they are a child - should be avoided.  This can be patronising and infantilising for a person with dementia. 

Try this instead:

Always remember the person behind the dementia.  It’s fine if the person needs you to speak slower than usual, but try to keep your tone of voice the same as with anyone else.  

Some people may like being called ‘love’ or ‘dear’, but unless you know the person it is usually best to use their name instead. This helps keep their dignity intact.

This article was first published in 2017 and most recently updated in January 2024.

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My Mother 90 and father 88 both have dementia. My father seems good. They both eat right and bath and take care of themselves. My mom lately has been accusing SOMEONE of taking all their clothing and replacing them with thrift store clothes and says this and that is missing and not recognizing her things and thinks someone is replacing them with old nasty things. None of it is true through but I know I am not to correct her from what I have been reading of this condition. Now this weekend she is saying my 35yo son has taken all my dads clothes she says I might just call my lawyer and change the living trust. All of the family including relatives know she is paranoid and imagining these things. I asked my dad about her behavior and he said I dont want to talk about it. We love them so much and it breaks our hearts seeing her like this. What can We do or say ? and she only says these things to me about her things being taken.
Hi Marci, I would speak to your GP and see if she can be referred to Community Mental Heath for older people. They understand this behaviors and can give advice and information as well as prescribe medication if required.
My husband has been diagnosed with Normal Pressure Hydrocephalus. He is awaiting shunt surgery (already cancelled once) that we hope will help. In the last 6 months his deterioration has been rapid. He has now started leaving the house when I’m not there (I’m never out for long) to look for me despite me telling him where I’m going and writing it on a whiteboard. I can’t be in all the time and it isn’t practical to take him with me in part due to other symptoms with NPH. I’ve thought of getting a tracking device. Does anyone have any recommendations/ comments?
I knoiw this will come across the wrong way, but I don't lie to my mother, I try very hard not to be blunt or unkind, but if she asks for someone who died, I tell her they died. She doesn't seem to be sad about it, she often acknowledges that her memory has become really bad and that she had forgotten about that. I think she asks these things in order to confirm what she suspects. Deflecting questions seems infantilising in my opinion. She asks about people who died all the time and she is seldom surprised about it when I tell her they died. So I think that things depend on each case, like the person who doesn't agree with not using terms like "love" or "darling".
I admire how so many of you are so helpful and can keep your frustation at bay. I am at the moment looking after my mother in her own home while her carers have a short holiday, but for financial reasons as well as the fact that she lives in another country and continent, I am considering taking her home with us. I am 52 but my children are relatively young (19, 16, 10) and I worry about how they will be affected by this decision. I have had loop-conversations for over an hour and while I manage to be rather patient on the outside, a part of me is screaming inside and I often make a little remark that I shouldn't or remind her that she has dementia (she doesn't like that word, she thinks it means she's crazy). It's especially hard at night because she walks all night and eats all night and gets very angry if I try to tell her to stop or to go to bed. I know I should just leave her be, but I can't. I try to be polite but inside my head I am quite mean. And this is all before she even moves with us! I know that will make her more confused, but I have very little options. Neither of us is in the UK.
How do I respond to someone with dementia who is adamant that they have just done something, but I know that they haven't. For example, "I loaded it into my car, which is outside", when it isn't and they haven't been out of the building. I feel so bad saying that your memory is playing tricks on you. I want to do the right thing.
Hi you should take yourself into their reality and not question the person with Dementia as it often causes confusion frustration aggressive behaviours. Avoiding this is essential to good care of patients with Dementia If they say they've been to the car say something like " that's nice what car do you have ? " And engage in conversation to stimulate their mind and not tell them they have not. Maybe change the subject... What other cars have they had in the past. Rather than focus on the fact they think they went out. Most my patients think they've been to work. We ask if they had a good day we don't say "no you haven't "
Some nursing homes just let the patient carry around a baby doll. They think it is their baby.
My aunt had been newly diagnosed with Alzheimers/dementia (is there a difference between Alzheimers and dementia?) and I was told that she will soon forget who she really is. We are going to have a milestone birthday get together for her next week as this will probably be the last birthday that she will be somehow lucid enough for. I have not seen her in quite a while. When I see her, would I just say hello to her by saying something like "HI! This is your niece Cindy. Happy birthday." or would that be too daunting for them? I have been looking at the comments here and trying to figure out how to talk with her.
The party has probably already happened, which I hope was fun. I wouldn’t introduce yourself like you never met. Keep in mind the final point about not infantilizing the person; that includes giving information that is not necessary, such as assuming she does not know your name so you say it. If something then comes up verbally, such as “who are you” (not simply a look they may give), then it can be answered with a short reply. Alzheimer’s is a type of dementia, much like colon cancer is a type of cancer and is not all kinds of cancer. All the best to your family.
Thank you for all these comments they are helpful. I am fortunate as my husband has Alzheimer's but does not accept the diagnosis but says he is just getting old. He is quiet and often sleeps or goes back to bed if things appear to be difficult, an example is when I say something he disagrees. I try to find something different for us to do each day but this is more difficult when the weather is to so good. We do not have any family living within 150miles and no friends nearby however visits to the local cafe are good and coming shopping with me he feels he is helping. I do the washing up but leave him to do the drying and then I put the things away, that way he is involved. He was diagnosed 6 years ago and so far we are learning to live with it. Thank you so much for many helpful hints.
My husband has advanced mixed dementia - Alzheimer’s and vascular - and his best and dearest friend (from boyhood right through to older age) died in 2021. Whenever his name crops up my husband will say, “He’s all right isn’t he?” And I will assure him that he’s just fine, on holiday in Australia with his daughter and her family who live near Melbourne, swimming in the warm sea and having a wonderful time. He’s happy with that.
I have early onset vascular dementia, and I honestly think that at times, I am a ghost, I try my best even though I find it very embarrassing talking, as I can not get my words out or say the wrong things , or even worse forget what I was going to say So try and fit something in to fit the sentence off only to embarrass my self more . As I say I try to join in put no one even seems to hear or se me . Which is really upsetting, so I don’t want to go anywhere or be with any one. Except my wife , words can cut you down and chop you into bits when said wrong It seems that it’s the only thing you can remember somehow I’m sorry if this is coming out all wrong I know what I want to say but I think it’s coming out all wrong so sorry about this
Thank you for sharing your experience Harry. I understood what you meant and found it very helpful.
Thank you so much Harry. I have been finishing the sentences for my loved one with this and I will stop it now. Thank you for sharing, your words are helping me help my family.
Thank you from the bottom of my heart for sharing that. I have a wife who has vascular dementia and I'm trying to handle it as best I can on my own. I never remind her if she forgets something we've discussed but sometimes use longer sentences than it sounds like I should. I've learned a lot from you story. Thank you
Harry, I am sorry for the frustration you experience when trying to communicate. But I am grateful for how well you expressed it. I am a caregiver for a lady with dementia. You have reminded me to be patient--that words sometimes come slowly or not at all. Please try not to be embarrassed. If you think your wife knows what you are trying to say--ould you ask her to help? Then you can say yes, that's right--or not. Sometimes our anxiety is what keeps the words from coming. Be patient with yourself. And if the words never come--that's okay, too.
Hi Please don’t be sorry you have nothing to be sorry for! Thank you for coming on this platform to explain your feelings and help others to understand. Please take care of your self x
Having early stage AD I would agree that the comments could either confuse or annoy you. However, being early stage I am aware of the intent and the fact that someone is concerned or offering help. My response is usually to tease them and say thanks but I am still fine... ATM.
When my relative asks to see her older sister who died of TB during WW2 - I talk to her about her younger sister who died at age 92 and that "Little Owey" her younger sisters son is now a Grandad. This puts things in context and ends on the happy note of Grandchildren. Always makes her laugh and smile. After a while we phone her neice and that brings it all into the present. She doesn't fret about her older sister for days... until the next time🙂.
When my darling husband wanted to go ‘home’ although we were in our bungalow where we had lived foe 16 years, I would take him into the kitchen and talk to him about the beautiful kitchen he had made for me, we would talk about all the pictures we had and where we had bought them from and of course his music and his beloved dog, it’s devastating. Our local dementia group were marvellous please ask for help if you need it
My wife of 52 yeas has been diagnosed with dementia. Reading through the comments helps a lot as sometimes its difficult as she is still the same lovely lady I married all that time ago it's just now she has an added side to her personality which I'm still understanding. She has no idea she has it and -at the moment -lives quite happily in her own world which I'm included in most of the time. Jos was writing a beautiful book (with around 4 re writes) but unfortunately she has now lost the ability to complete it which is so very sad. She would love writing and when she was first diagnosed I then fully understood that her love of writing was because she was able to enter a world that she could fully control as at that stage she did seem to be aware that she was changing. I hope I will never have to look to putting her into care as I want to be with her to continue our journey through life till the end. Its so hard sometimes but reading what others are going though really helps- especially at 2am
Bless you so much. Bless your heart and bless hers. I can’t begin to think of how you feel and how she feels. May you be strengthened during this hard time. Lots of love.
I find all the comments very interesting and helpful, however, my husband was diagnosed early 4 years ago and has been on the relevant medication since, very slow deterioration and he is very fit physically but he will not accept he has dementia and will not talk about it. He still attends to his own personal hygiene with prompting but other than that relies on me for everything else. I can understand why partners become frustrated, very hard looking after someone with this terrible disease, but as someone mentioned in a former message, there but for the grace of God go I.
My husband sounds exactly the same as yours. Physically well and will not accept he has dementia. It difficult to say if it would be better if he did acknowledge it. I suspect it would be just different than it is now. Hang on in there. Family and friends are very supportive.

Hi Ann, we're very sorry to hear about your husband's diagnosis. It sounds like a difficult situation for you both. Please know we are here to support you.

We'd recommend talking to one of our expert dementia advisers, who can provide advice and guidance that's specific to your situation. You can call our support line on 0333 150 3456. (More details, including opening hours, are available here:

You may also be interested in joining our online community, Talking Point. You can use this to speak with others who have been or are currently in similar situations, and to find advice, tips and support:

Hope that helps for now, Ann. 


Alzheimer's Society blog team


My hubby knows he has Alzheimer’s but we both cannt cope with his inability to find things that are there. He just cannt seem to see the cup on the table, the mobile phone on the worktop in plain sight, he touches everything except what I want him to pass to me.