It’s very easy to talk to our loved ones with dementia the same way we did before they received their diagnosis – lighthearted banter, small arguments, the occasional sarcastic remark – after all, they’re the same person they always have been. However, as the brain faces huge changes with dementia and it becomes harder to anticipate how they’ll react to something. A small sarcastic remark that makes perfect sense to you might lead to confusion or even anger. Trying to prove you’re right in an argument may just upset them and make them feel as though they’ve done something wrong. Here are seven things you should avoid doing while interacting with someone who’s been diagnosed with dementia.

  1. Telling them they’re wrong – Arguing with someone who has dementia is usually a moot point. After all, if you win the argument and they come out upset, do you really win? If your loved one makes a comment that isn’t correct, just try to reroute the conversation and talk about something else. Instead: Change their focus to something more positive.
  2. Asking if they remember – This one is difficult to avoid, even for the most seasoned caregivers. We are all frequently asking people if they remember things, so sometimes it just rolls off the tongue. Asking a person with dementia if they remember something will usually result in a negative answer followed by a negative mood – after all, the number one symptom of dementia is forgetfulness. Instead: A different approach can make a huge difference. We can avoid this by saying things like “I remember when…” or “There was a time where … happened.”
  3. Announcing a death – The hardest thing a person can hear is that someone they loved has died. There’s often a cycle with this – a person with dementia is told someone has passed away, they become upset, then they forget that they’ve been told this (or they dwell on it). If they forget, and you remind them, they go through the grieving process all over again. There’s not a lot of advice surrounding this situation but redirecting the conversation may help. Try to be gentle if you decide to break the news surrounding a death, as it could just end up hurting them.
  4. Saying “I already told you” – Avoid saying this under any circumstance. Repeating yourself over and over again is annoying. I get it. It’s annoying when your kids need to be reminded to do things, it’s annoying when your spouse needs to be reminded of a date, it’s just a pain in the butt to continue repeating yourself – especially if you’re stressed out! However, with dementia, that is the best option when being asked to repeat what you’ve already said. You will save yourself and your loved one a lot of grief if you repeat instead of argue. (If your loved one continues asking about something you’ve already spoken on, consider looking into their repeated questions and behavior. A lot of times, repeated behavior is a sign of unmet needs – anxiety, hunger, needing the bathroom.)
  5. Open-ended Questions – Be specific when talking to a person with dementia. Provide OPTIONS! Instead of “What would you like to do today?”, try “Let’s do some knitting followed by some time outside!” You could also offer them questions that can be answered with “yes” or “no” – “Do you want to do some knitting today?” Making it simple for them always helps.
  6. Explaining everything at once – Again, simplify things! Instead of saying, “We are going to get dressed so we can go out and get some food” and loading information on them, take it one step at a time. Take it step-by-step and offer help along the way. Give yourself time before heading out so your loved one can complete their tasks at their own pace.
  7. Talking about the person as if they aren’t there/talking about their diagnosis – If you are going to discuss the condition of your loved one, whether they are doing good, bad, staying the same, etc. – DON’T talk about it in front of them. If it’s a conversation they need to have with you, include them. Don’t talk as if they’re not there. It helps them avoid the pain of feeling as though they’re already gone. Always assume they can hear and understand you.

It can be hard to train your brain into speaking or acting a certain way. I hope this will help everyone understand the reactions people with dementia can have to phrases we don’t think twice about. The world of dementia is not an easy world to live in, but it is manageable and with a little effort, we can make our loved one’s life a little less scary. They will appreciate it. Thanks for reading.


Sensations prides itself on being a safe facility that specializes in dementia and Alzheimer’s disease. Each of Sensations’ design elements ensures safety and security for our residents. If you have a loved one who has been diagnosed with dementia and are looking for information, please feel free to call us at (517) 543-8101. Our office hours are Monday-Friday from 9 a.m. – 5 p.m.