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Top 10 tips for communicating with people with dementia

cheerful young girl ironing and helping with household chores an elderly woman at home

The Arts Health Institute’s Play Up Program promotes openness and playful connection to enhance the experiences of the elderly. Based on the SMILE study it has been shown to help reduce agitation, depression and isolation for those living with dementia.

Creative Director of the Arts Health Institute, Jean-Paul Bell – has visited hundreds of people who live with the effects of dementia whilst overseeing the Play Up Program. As a result, Jean-Paul has shared with us his top 10 tips for communicating with people with dementia:

  1. Adjust yourself to their thinking. If you’re visiting people in care or at home, be adaptable and flexible. Try to get a laugh or make a real connection.
  2. Resist the temptation to correct the person. Even if their words or actions don’t make sense to you, they may resent you for contradicting them.
  3. Be your wonderful self! Show affection if they desire it.
  4. Remember to touch. Hold their hand, look into their eyes or rub their back in a gentle circular motion. This can be calming, especially when associated with positive comments.
  5. Show and tell is good. Bring them something that has a memory or a story around it then see if it creates a moment of connection. If it works, bring it back for another visit.
  6. Don’t assume you can pick up where you left off on your last visit. They may have moved on and you have to catch up!
  7. Play with mistaken identity. If your father thinks you are his brother instead of his son… go with it. You might discover a family secret or two!
  8. Ask for their advice and guidance on anything – kids, renovations, your own life. Their own unique comments may carry great wisdom and some wonderful humour. These are precious moments.
  9. Speak to their care workers for updates on how they’re doing. Be constructive and ask for their ideas about what you can do help in their care and support.
  10. Keep up the visits and try to remain upbeat. Event when it’s tough, stick with it. A responsive squeeze of a hand can speak volumes!

Keen to find out more about the Play Up Program?

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