Supporting people

Family/whānau and friends play a critical part in supporting people with dementia. Not only can they provide the physical, everyday support a person needs, they also provide emotional support, including valuable links to the past.

The most important thing you can do if someone you know is diagnosed with dementia is to continue to support them and encourage them to remain an active member of your family/whānau and local community.

You can do this by:

  • Learning more about dementia
  • Acknowledging that things have changed for the person with dementia and asking how you can help.
  • Not questioning or judging the person, but rather supporting and accepting them.
  • Being available for a chat from time to time
  • Supporting them to carry on doing the things they enjoy.
  • Treating them with dignity and respect.

Remember that the best way of all to help someone with dementia is by staying interested, staying in touch and letting them know that they are loved.

The do's and don'ts of communicating


Dementia oftens affects people's communication. Their ability to present rational ideas and to reason clearly will change. Their ability to process information may also get progressively weaker and their responses can become delayed.

Here are some tips for communicating better with someone with dementia.


Do

  • talk in a calm, gentle, matter-of-fact way
  • keep sentences short and simple, focusing on one idea at a time
  • allow plenty of time for them to understand what’s being said and to respond
  • don’t finish their sentences
  • use names to tell the person who someone is, such as “your son Jack”
  • be patient and flexible
  • body language is important, so use hand and facial gestures (such as pointing and demonstrating) to help them understand 
  • encourage all family/whānau members and friends to use the same communication techniques so messages are repeated in the same way.

Don’t

  • argue with them or around them
  • order them around
  • try to have a conversation while there is background noise, such as the radio
  • tell them what they can’t do – instead focus on what they can do
  • be condescending – they will probably pick up the tone of your voice even if they don’t understand the words
  • ask a lot of direct questions that rely on a good memory – this could make them frustrated and upset
  • talk about them as if they aren’t there.

Managing a person’s hearing loss is also important and will help you to effectively communicate with someone who has dementia.  If you are concerned that hearing loss may be contributing to communication difficulties, it is important to see a doctor, audiologist or hearing therapist. 

Any assistance that can be provided to help with hearing loss may make a significant difference to the person with dementia’s quality of life and for those you provide support for them.

There is help available for you as you care for someone with dementia, contact your local Alzheimers organisation for more information.

Related:

Read Communicating with a person affected by dementia article, in our newsletter.