People with dementia tell us how to talk to them

We hear what people with dementia want others to understand when communicating with them.

Tommy Dunne, 70, in Liverpool, who has young-onset Alzheimer’s, says, ‘It’s ironic to me that people talk to animals yet will not talk to a person with dementia because they assume we won’t understand. 

‘Alzheimer’s affects my short-term memory – it doesn’t mean I don’t remember anything.

‘My top tips for communicating with a person with dementia include always approach them from the front and never be afraid to laugh with them – though not at their expense.’

Tommy Dunne

Tommy Dunne

Laughter can lighten the mood and reduce stress.

‘Always let the person with dementia speak for themselves about their welfare, as they may not speak up in other situations.

‘You should never start a conversation with, “Remember when you…?” That really throws us.

‘Never patronise the person and speak slowly. 

Sometimes having a conversation when you have dementia is like using a tape recorder – if you don’t press record, everything you said is lost.

‘But never give up. Communicating with a person with dementia can be rewarding for both of you.’ 

Jan Melbourne, 58, in Chelmsford and living with vascular dementia, says, ‘People need to be more patient.

‘I was in a shop and tried to talk to the shop assistant about something I needed.

‘The assistant was impatient and got annoyed with me. 

‘I then went shopping in a dementia-friendly supermarket and was trying to get something.

The assistant behind the counter made it easier for me to communicate thanks to their training.

‘When talking to someone with dementia, ensure that you leave a gap in the conversation to give them time to finish speaking.’

Lorraine Dallow

Lorraine Dallow

Lorraine Dallow, 62, in Swindon, who lives with young-onset Alzheimer’s, says,

Good communication goes beyond the verbal and is about how someone makes you feel.

‘I regularly enjoy going to concerts, comedy nights, films and football with my husband Ian.

‘We work as a team – Ian takes care to let me speak first in group conversations.

‘This allows me to introduce myself and give my opinions before him. 

‘I love going out because I get to talk to lots of different people.

I have had lots of great experiences at the venues I’ve been to, and the staff have often been very helpful.

‘At a Nottingham Forest match, the stewards saw I was struggling to get up and down as people in my row passed me, so they moved me to a seat where I wouldn’t get disturbed.

‘I can’t remember the conversation I had with the stewards, but I know they were kind and looked after me.’ 

Peter Clark in south-west Wales, who has Alzheimer’s, says, ‘Our failing memory does not mean an inability to think logically or immunity to being hurt by thoughtlessness or insult. 

If we speak and act rudely or suggestively or use bad language, try to understand it is because the bit of our brain which controls what we say and do is now defective, and does not impose our previous good manners and restraints. 

‘By the time we are diagnosed, we have all sorts of things going on like lists and procedures.

‘If you disrupt these, it can take us days to get back into our routines.’

Maxine Linnell

Maxine Linnell

Maxine Linnell, 75, in Leicestershire, who has Alzheimer’s, says, ‘I was diagnosed quite recently, and I find the most  painful part of having dementia is some people’s reactions. 

When they make assumptions about me, talk over me or act as if I have no feelings and don’t need respect, it breaks down another piece of me.

‘During a recent conversation, one person told me I didn’t have dementia, it was just the latest fad.

‘One said angrily that she had a friend with dementia who regularly phoned to say she felt suicidal.

‘One told me it was the carers she felt sorry for. 

But the people I love talking with leave their assumptions and fears aside and just spend time with me.

‘They’re happy to talk about things which matter to us both.

‘When I lose a word, they wait. When it takes me a while to think something through, they’re still just there with me.’ 

Gerry King, a talented illustrator, is a member of STAND, a Fife group that’s part of the DEEP (Dementia Engagement and Empowerment Project) network.

He depicted some of the experiences that people with dementia shared with us.

Gerry King, a talented illustrator, is a member of STAND, a Fife group that’s part of the DEEP (Dementia Engagement and Empowerment Project) network. He depicted some of the experiences shared with us.

Gerry King’s illustrations 

Find support near you

Find support near you with our online dementia directory

Find support near you

Dementia together magazine

Dementia together magazine is for all Alzheimer’s Society supporters and anyone affected by the condition.
Subscribe now
Dementia together magazine is for all Alzheimer’s Society supporters and anyone affected by the condition.
Subscribe now


I just need you to be kind, even though you've slipped my mind, Please don't judge on what you see, for deep inside I still am me.
My husband has Alzheimer's he had a fall on the 30th June and broke a bone in his lower back. He was in hospital for two weeks then trans fired to the local rehab unit for more Physio. Since then he has not walked. They have now told me he will have to go into a nursing home as he needs twenty four hour care. We have been married sixty five years and is devastating news for me and my family.
Have you talked with a local hospice eg I know this is normally end of life but they may help because I know they now do care at home - I don't care what anyone says my wife is never going into care.
Eye contact and carefully delivered words, at a slower rate, helps greatly.
Information like this is very useful for helping me communicate better with my Mum who has vascular dementia. I try to always avoid saying "do you remember..." for instance, thanks to this website and people sharing their stories. Thank you.
For some years my wife Eileen suffered from Dementia and I did my best to comfort her, and to instill some hope into her life. I sometimes wonder if I was doing the right thing or I would have been better advised to help by telling exactly what her position and health really was. If I could have my time over again I might do things differently . How I wanted to help her. How I love her!
I find this support and comments very useful. Thank you
This sounds like some people with dementia need to be in groups for the conversation. That doesn't work for me as I can't keep up with the conversations and dare not start a sentence for fear of loosing words and feeling foolish.
Just want to say I appreciate the comments made in the article how to talk to people with dementia. I am in early stages of vascular dementia and family and friends keep telling I haven’t got dementia so to read the comments in this article is really upbringing thank you
I run a dementia awareness team under the N.E.Lincs Health and Wellbeing. My question is. Could I use the pictures above don't assume, don't stereotype, speak to the person. as part of our display information??
Good morning Mike, Thanks for your comment. Could you get in touch with us at [email protected] , please? I can then try and put you in contact with the artist. Kind regards, Jess (Deputy editor).