Oct 14, 2020

Six ways to better engage with people living with dementia

Clear communication can be challenging when interacting with a person living with dementia. Whether the person is non-verbal, or has some trouble maintaining conversational flow, finding ways to engage, interact and entertain someone living with dementia can help social interaction be more enjoyable and effective.

Here are some simple ideas for fostering effective communication and engagement to make the most of the time you spend together: 

1. Reminisce about the past 

People living with dementia will often have memories from their past stay strong in their mind. It may be where they grew up, their first job, where they went to school, or fond memories about loved ones. Engaging a person living with dementia by asking them about their past can help them tap into that long term memory bank, and can have them happily chatting at length. 

2. Bake a cake, paint, colour in or engage in a craft

It’s human nature to want to feel useful, and this doesn’t change for people living with dementia. Doing something fun and familiar together like baking a cake where they can stir together ingredients, or doing some painting, colouring in, or a craft is a practical task that results in a wonderful creation. 

3. Take a walk

Depending on the person’s physical health and active ability, doing something that gets their body moving can be a great way to keep them engaged, as well as improving their overall health and wellbeing. A simple stroll together through a garden, taking time to smell the flowers and enjoy the scenery, is a great way to connect and communicate.

4. Get techy for A Better Visit

Introducing new technology to a person living with dementia may not always be the first thing you think of to help ease communication and connection. But Dementia Australia have created a tablet app for iPads and android tablets that does just this. The app, A Better Visit, was developed with the support of Lifeview Residential Care and the technical knowhow of the team at Swinburne University Future Self and Design Living Lab. It features a range of simple, fun games that people can play together and are specifically designed to be engaging for people living with dementia. You can find out more about A Better Visit app here.

5. Make it about their favourite things

Everyone has a topic they love to talk about, and for people living with dementia that doesn’t change. Whether it’s something you know they’re passionate about or asking them about their favourite things, getting them talking about something important to them will be sure to fire up their interest.

6. Stay flexible

Keeping flexible with activities can help the interaction flow more smoothly. Some days they may love getting out the paint brushes, other days they may just want to sit and chat. Make sure you’re able to adapt rather than attempting to force a preplanned activity. No one likes being made to do a task. 

Being able to effectively engage and interact with people living with dementia does wonders for their health and wellbeing. As humans, we’re always looking for meaningful human connection, and people living with dementia maintain that desire. 

Adapting your communication styles and strategies is key to making sure the other person has a positive experience with you. Find out what they’re receptive to and always make sure you prioritise their wants and needs.

Image courtesy of Dementia Australia

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