Communication is vital to the wellbeing of all human beings. However, people living with dementia can find it hard to communicate and it can be difficult for those without dementia to engage them in conversation.
Before we share our conversation starters, it is important that the environment you plan to talk in is conducive to a good chat. There are lots of quiet and serene spaces within our homes, such as one of our smaller lounges, a stroll through our welcoming and relaxing gardens or, if the weather isn’t co-operating, our bright and airy conservatories. We recommend minimising background noise as people living with dementia can become distracted by this. Try to be on the same level as the person you are talking to and establish eye contact as this will help them pick up on visual cues about the conversation. And, take it slowly, those with dementia won’t move or talk at the same pace as you.
- Respond to their mood
Dementia can cause a whole host of emotions from anxiety to sadness, to laughter and joy as old memories re-surface. An effective way to start a conversation with someone living with dementia is to really look at their mood and comment on it, for example ‘You look happy today’ or ‘You seem worried today.’
- Keep it simple
Think of a subject meaningful to both of you before you arrive. Keep sentences short to make it easier for a person with dementia to follow what you are saying. Don’t switch topics too soon. Be a good listener and give the person time to think and respond. For those with short term memory loss it is easy to forget the beginning of a conversation.
- Use visual aids and other prompts
Having a visual aid can really help people with dementia stay focused. They will often struggle to keep the topic of the conversation in mind as it progresses. Having pictures or objects in front of you will help. For example, if the conversation is about medication, have the medication on the table. Or, if it is about a family member, bring a picture of that family member with you.
For those living with dementia, their long-term memories will be precious and often still vivid to them. Asking them to recall their first love, first job, memories of childhood or even their favourite food can be a great way to get the conversation going, and the person you are talking to will be delighted to share their stories with you. Each of our homes has a Reminiscence Box, put together by our Activities and Lifestyle Facilitators (ALF’s) that can spark memories, stories or anecdotes. They contain objects relating to specific topics, e.g. holidays, all designed to help those living with dementia trigger memories.
- Find a shared activity
A great way to start a conversation, with no questions or pressure for someone living with dementia, is to do an activity while you chat. It could be working on a puzzle, playing cards, or looking through photo albums. Some of our homes have a dedicated Games Room, perfect for you and your loved one to try a new activity, but all will have lounges stocked with games such as scrabble or dominoes, as well as reading materials, and even musical instruments like a piano or tambourine.
At later stages, your loved one might be beyond the point of having meaningful conversations. In these cases, it may make more sense to watch a favourite TV show; listen to some quiet music; or read extracts from their favourite book. This may be a perfect time to bring the grandchildren over to our homes, where they are welcome any time. Children bring so much pleasure, laughter and excitement; they can be a wonderful way to lift someone’s spirits.
Our highly trained and compassionate staff are always on hand to share a moment or offer any helpful words of advice. So please, if you’re feeling uninspired, or are struggling to get the conversation going, just reach out to us.