March 27, 2024 by Dean Bellefeuille

The adult child of someone with dementia hugs her mother as they smile.

Have you ever said the wrong thing? Perhaps your intention was to compliment a friend on her new haircut, but you came across sounding like you were criticizing her previous hairstyle. Choosing our words carefully is always important, but even more so when speaking with someone with dementia. The words we say and the way we say them can significantly impact the person’s emotional well-being and quality of life.

Here are five things never to say to someone with dementia, along with alternative approaches to foster understanding and connection:

“You’re wrong.” Dismissing someone’s thoughts or memories can make a person with dementia feel frustrated or stressed. Instead of dismissing their reality, validate their feelings and experiences. For instance, say, “I understand that you see it that way,” or redirect the conversation to a different topic. By acknowledging their perspective, you validate their emotions and maintain a sense of connection.

“Remember when…?” For someone with dementia, it can be embarrassing not to be able to recall specific details of a memory. Instead, provide gentle prompts or share your own memories to spark conversation without putting pressure on them to remember. For example, say, “I remember when we went to that restaurant together. It was such a lovely evening,” allowing them to engage in the conversation without feeling pressured to recall specific details.

“You already said that.” Continuously reminding someone with dementia of their forgetfulness can be hurtful and counterproductive. Instead, practice patience and respond as if it’s the first time you’ve heard the information. This approach preserves their dignity and reduces feelings of frustration. You can say, “Thank you for sharing that with me,” and continue the conversation without dwelling on their forgetfulness.

“You don’t have dementia.” Ignoring or denying someone’s dementia can feel confusing and isolating. It’s crucial to acknowledge their reality while offering reassurance and support. Express empathy and assure them that you’re there to help navigate any challenges they may face. You could say, “I’m here to support you through this journey, no matter what comes our way.”

“You’re being difficult.” Labeling their behavior as difficult or challenging can escalate tension and hinder effective communication. Instead, approach them with kindness and understanding. Identify the underlying needs or emotions driving their behavior and respond with empathy and patience. For example, say, “I can see that you’re feeling frustrated. Let’s take a moment to figure out how we can make things better together.” One of the most challenging parts of dementia can be communication. Let our trained, experienced dementia care specialists help. Contact us online or call (315) 579-HOME (4663) to learn more about our specialized care for those with dementia in Syracuse, Camillus, Clay, Fayetteville, Salina, and the surrounding areas. We understand the unique needs of individuals living with dementia and are dedicated to providing compassionate care that promotes dignity and quality of life.