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5 Conversation Starters When Talking to Someone with Dementia

 

What should I talk to them about? Will I make them even more frustrated if they can’t remember? These are some of the questions that come to mind when we think of talking to someone living with dementia. Especially as their condition progresses, it may be even harder to communicate with them but it is not an impossible task.

 

When talking to someone with dementia, do make sure to keep some basics in mind to make them feel more comfortable. Eye contact, a reassuring hand-holding, and smiles are helpful in setting them at ease. More importantly, be mindful in keeping the conversation simple. Don’t ask too many questions at once to avoid overwhelming them, and stick with simple words.

Another tip is to minimise background noise to make it easier for them to concentrate. Try closing windows to reduce sounds from the road outside. If you’re not sure where to begin, use these simple conversation starters:

 

Shared experiences

Try talking about a memory from long ago, like family vacations or incidents that might have been memorable. Encourage them to join in by reminiscing about the event and some details about it. Instead of asking them if they remember a particular event, start with questions such as “Do you like weddings?”. You can also try talking about shared experiences to see if it triggers any memories in them.

 

School Yearbooks or Photo Albums

Anything with names and/or pictures of people who might be familiar to the person with dementia is a good starting point. Look through the book or album together, and see if it triggers any memories for them that they will enjoy talking about. You can also use photos from books and newspapers as a reference to get a conversation going. Generic photos can be easier for a person with dementia to talk about if they are having trouble remembering a particular place, person, or event.

 

Memorable trinket

If a book or item had been especially precious to them, take that out and look through it together. If the item is important to you as well, talk about your own memories of it as a starting point.

 

Reading together

Revisit their favourite books and read familiar passages together. Even if they don’t recall these passages, you can always ask them what they think about it to engage them in meaningful discussion.

 

The power of music

Play a popular song from the heyday, or any songs that might have been particularly special to them to listen or sing along to. Stimulate memories by mentioning the artiste or song name, and ask them questions that relate to what makes the song memorable as you go along.

At the end of the day, having a meaningful conversation with a person with dementia simply requires sensitivity to their needs. Watch out for their reactions and change your approach where necessary to avoid increasing their frustration needlessly.

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