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.

Emergency appeal: we need your help.

Coronavirus has been particularly tough for those affected by dementia. The latest restrictions mean people will be experiencing increased loneliness and an acute sense of fear.

Help us continue to be there for people living with dementia and their families.

Yes, I'd like to donate →

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.

Need help finding dementia information?

Find the information and support you're looking for with our free online tool.

Get online support
Think this page could be useful to someone? Share it:
Categories

236 comments

Add a comment

My dad has dementia, he’s 80, my mom is 76 and trying to get along with him by herself except for texting me all the time complaining about him, she stays up late and gets up late, my dad goes to bed early and gets up early, eats cereal and coffee then takes a 2 hour nap, that makes mom mad, he wants to eat dinner early and she won’t fix dinner till later so he eats a bowl of cereal, gets mad and goes to bed, I’ve tried to tell mom what to do to help but she won’t listen, right now they are fighting because mom want him to wear a coat that he don’t want to wear. Please help me give mom better advice, thanks, Wendy

This is helpful
0

Hello Wendy,

We are sorry to hear this - it sounds like a really difficult time for you and your parents.

If you are based in the UK, we recommend speaking with one of our dementia advisers to discuss the situation. They will be best placed to provide you with advice and support. Please call our Dementia Connect support line on 0333 150 3456. (More information on opening times: https://www.alzheimers.org.uk/get-support/dementia-connect-support-line)

If you're based in the US, please contact the Alzheimer's Association helpline: https://alz.org/help-support/resources/helpline

Or if you're based in Canada, please contact the Alzheimer's Society of Canada helpline: https://alzheimer.ca/en/Home/ContactUs

Wishing you all the best, Wendy.
-
Alzheimer's Society blog team

This is helpful
0

My daughter, a Veteran, is in mid 50s and is diagnosed with early dementia. She has FTD. She is temporarily living with us, her parents, ages 82 and 90 and it's taking a toll on us. Also she is very bored and requires lots of attention, We're striving to somehow get her into a Nursing home for proper care but just don't know where to start. We do not have power of Attorney over her health or finances.

This is helpful
1

My mum (84) is caring for my dad (93) who has dementia. She's always had a very short temper and is a very controlling person. She has always presented to strangers as having a perfect life and wouldn't dream of admitting any problems or shortcomings or need for help. Obviously this is making them very isolated as she won't access any support. She is very short and patronising with my dad, is embarassed by him and they seem increasingly agitated together. He has shown signs that they row a lot now and yet throughout his life he has supported everything she's ever done or said despite knowing that she basically lies a lot of the time.
This all sounds very critical of her but it's true and despite how difficult she is I do love her. I also know that this would be hard for anybody it's just that she's the furthest thing you could get from being a natural born carer.
If anyone has any suggestions they would be much appreciated. I am thinking that somehow we need to get my mum respite from him but she actually has that option and so far has not accessed it, saying he doesn't want to go. I think it because shes acting weird about it which he picks up on ..... and so on and on we go. It's just sad to see their final years so unhappy and not liking each other but maybe that's also how they've actually always been but now they can't keep the pretence up

This is helpful
5

My mum asks to go home frequently, and recently mentioned one that she lived in 30 years ago. Is it a good idea to take her to see it, or will it upset her if she can’t go in?
Just trying to put things in perspective for her.

This is helpful
7

Hi Elaine,

Thanks for your comment.

The question of 'home' is a difficult one, and it can mean different things for different people. There is some advice in this article which you may find helpful: https://www.alzheimers.org.uk/blog/i-want-go-home-what-to-say-to-someon…

It may be that just talking about your mum's past is a good way of accessing memories and understanding what she might need. If you're worried about this or the question of whether taking your mum to an old address might be helpful, I'd strongly recommend calling our Dementia Connect support line on 0333 150 3456. You'll be able to speak to a trained dementia adviser who can learn more about your situation and give information, advice and support.

There are more details of the Dementia Connect support line, including opening hours, here:
https://www.alzheimers.org.uk/dementia-connect-support-line

I really hope this helps, Elaine.

Alzheimer's Society blog team

This is helpful
0

We are In a situation where the much loved and adored 97 yo mother has dementia. However to her the world and the family has to revolve around her and what makes her happy . She refuses to leave her house to stay with family for the week end or in a beautiful house like care facility. She throws tantrums like a 2 year old which last for hours and accuses her kids of persecuting her . When her son gives into her she smirks stops crying and causing distress and becomes gentle and joyful again those who love her are left in tatters how should we deal with this brahma iiur as it means there is no respite

This is helpful
5

Mum has severe dementia and it's blooming hard work! She doesn't stop talking, asking endless questions, demanding assistance for everything throughout the day and wanting someone to be with her all the time!
She has no patience, you go into the kitchen to prepare something to eat or drink that may take a minute or 2 and she starts calling demanding things immediately, I find myself hurrying to do things just to comply. To add to that she has mobility problems so she really does need assistance but when she asks to be fed which she can manage herself although with difficulty she then gets annoyed no matter how you try and encourage, coax or praise her.
I am so fortunate she has a live in carer but even then it's hard work for her especially but also for me. I do not live with her but she phones to report I come over all the time, I see her 3-4 times a week, often staying between 3 to 6 hours. Thinking of getting the doctor to prescribe a sedative as she will get into bed early enough but make noise, bang on the walls (no doubt disturbing the neighbours) till midnight. The sedative idea is also to calm her nerves she is in worry and anxiety overdrive!

This is helpful
1

Such a difficult situation. You will need a lot of patience to cope. Are you getting enough help and breaks from your mum?
Thinking of you at this difficult time

This is helpful
1

My Mum was diagnosed with mild to moderate mixed dementia about a year ago 2months ago she had a stroke(a bleed) this has affected her sight with a slight left sided deficit she’s home with me but her dementia appears to be getting much worse how does having a stroke affect someone with dementia please

This is helpful
4

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!!

This is helpful
11

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

This is helpful
2

Hi Catherine, I had to tell my mum her diagnosis when she was 68 aswell it was the hardest thing iv ever had to do,dementia is a cruel illness ,my mum was devastated by her diagnosis and in complete denial, however I can always see the real mum shining through even now in the last stages her sarcastic sence of humour pops up every now and then ,she never lost her spirit , I hope you are well ,I wish you well ❤

This is helpful
0

I like to believe that our struggles in this life will stay in this life. Wherever we go next will be a place where all our questions are answered without the need to ask. I sincerely hope you will have more good days then bad x x x

This is helpful
0

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

This is helpful
24

It is not helpful for him to remind him of her death only distressing. Is there somewhere she may have gone ie shopping or hairdressers that would reassure him that she is not lost. It feels uncomfortable as if you are lying but it is kinder than the truth which is painful and not retained.
Thinking of you in this sad situation

This is helpful
1

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.

This is helpful
3

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

This is helpful
2

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.

This is helpful
0

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

This is helpful
3

I’m so sorry about your Grandad. It’s hard to watch, but there is so much you can do to make his world ok and along the way your time with him can be more rewarding too. My Mom passed a year ago and lived with Alzheimer’s for many years that included the passing of my Dad and a transition to a new living situation. My Mom had always showered every morning her entire life and then One day didn’t want to. It helped when I understand that she became afraid of the Looking up and the water coming at her Face. She just didn’t understand it. At first, it helped to just be near her and to talk her through What was happening in a calm and confident voice. She trusted me and I worked hard to never lose her trust in me. It doesn’t mean I didn’t mess up a lot, but when I did push her too hard, I noticed how she was responding and getting agitated. I stopped gave her a little space and then came back and tried a different way or let it go for a bit. She Also loved washing her hands with warm soap and water or the feel of a warm face cloth across her skin. Sometimes that was all we could get for that day. Be sure to start away from his face so it doesn’t startle him. Pay attention to what you think he is ready for and when it starts to go awry. That will give you clues to what he is capable of that day.
I tried to always set the tone for how our time together would be. If I was upbeat and happy so was she. I wasn’t always able to muster up that energy, but whenever I could it paid off. When I greeted my Mom, I tried to use a tone that told her I was one of her very special people and she was safe with me, she always received me that way. I stopped worrying about her knowing my name or my connection to her, I just focused on helping her understand that I was her safe space, someone that would share in laugh or a hug. If I left the room for more than a few moments that she may have forgotten that I had been there I would return with the same greeting of “ HI MOM! IT’S JENN! With excitement and love in my voice. Her eyes would light up again as if she was having another visitor and something wonderful was about to happen. Sometimes during our visit she would ask me who I am and I would explain to her that I was her daughter and how special that was. I would use that moment to explain to her that she raised me and what she taught me and the look of pride on her face was such a gift to me. She couldn’t believe that she had done such an extraordinary thing. I set the tone for her being happy and that the day or moment was full of possibilities, she followed along every time! It was wonderful fun for me to try to Get that reaction from her. I found simple things to do together like color or fold paper flowers. I would do it along side her, I noticed she watch what I did for queues as to what her next step was. I went at her pace, always keeping her dignity and pride at the forefront of my mind. Later in her disease that became less of an issue and she was happy to have me help or explain something. Early on she needed to believe I didn’t know she was struggling and setting her up to succeed became a goal of mine and made my time with her more enjoyable. It removed all the anxiety of her being with people because she wasn’t trying to hide her deficiencies she was just being with me.. I enjoyed finding things to do with her that made her laugh and distracted her.
I am so sorry that this is the hand that you were dealt, but I love that you are trying to understand your Grandad. You will be a blessing to him as he navigates this disease. God bless you, I apologize for rambling, but I hope this is in someway helpful.

This is helpful
10

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...

This is helpful
1

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..

This is helpful
1

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

This is helpful
3

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 ?..

This is helpful
10

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.

This is helpful
5

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.

This is helpful
0

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.

This is helpful
0

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.

This is helpful
0

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

This is helpful
0

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

This is helpful
0

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.

This is helpful
1

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!

This is helpful
0

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

This is helpful
4
Leave a comment

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked with *

The content of this field is kept private and will not be shown publicly.