As Alzheimer's Support marks its 30th year, we have pulled together 30 ways to help someone living with dementia. 

People living with dementia, carers and members of staff contributed the ideas below, and the notes in italics were added by members of our Devizes discussion group (pictured above) who live with dementia and who know best what can be helpful. It is not an exhaustive list - and of course not everything on it will be right for everyone...

Getting on and communication

  • Ask what is important to the person with dementia, what do they like, what do they need 

We started our discussion with this point and group members were keen to point out that none of them thought dementia would happen to them.  No-one anticipates a diagnosis of dementia, and it can be hard to hear. People need to be sensitive to this. Although they may be happy to talk about the fact that they have dementia, you need to be aware that this isn’t the future they anticipated.

  • Make time to talk and listen. This is very important. It is also very helpful to meet other people in a similar situation. Sharing experiences and thoughts is useful.

  • Give information in bite size chunks. Say the key points you need them to hear and don’t give information overload.

  • If a decision is being asked for, be clear about it. Stick to the main facts.

  • Remember many people affected by dementia welcome the opportunity to learn more about it. Having someone to explain about what’s happening in the brain, and possible symptoms, can be helpful. People are different, but there are some general facts that they would like to have been given at diagnosis. The same is true for the drug treatments.

  • Find out about the person’s background to help them reminisce - Enjoy old photos or songs together if appropriate. Discussing and sharing memories is good.

  • Avoid asking abstract questions - Yes. Make it clear what you are asking about and reduce the answer options. However, they do always want to be consulted and made to feel that they are involved with decision making.

  • Body language helps to communicate. Look at them so they know that you are speaking to them. Pointing to something you are discussing, smiling and nodding etc to signal you are listening, and waiting for an answer.

  • Talk about what is going on in the news. This may require recent knowledge and will of course depend on the individual, but at Discussion Group we always want to discuss current issues. We have had some long debates about current events, We still have opinions about them, and welcome the opportunity to share them.

  • Focus on activities the person has enjoyed in the past and what they can do – be imaginative to find solutions so that activities can still be enjoyed

  • Find a way to mention your name and that of anyone else in the conversation, to remind the person discreetly who you are and why you are there.

  • Give people time to think – don’t be afraid of silences. Allow for the person to search for the words to try to express themselves.

  • Some gentle prompting or comment to show you understand what they are trying to tell you is ok if you see they are struggling, but don’t jump in too quickly.

  • Give people some time to themselves to gather their thoughts.

  • Don’t always give instructions or tell people what to do. We are still adults and should be treated as such. Respect their dignity by making them feel that they have some choice, even if it’s only asking them to agree to a prearranged course of action.

  • Support people to make use of technology that can help, eg Alexa, mobile phones and tablets.

  • If you are supporting someone from a distance find ways to stay in touch, either good old fashioned letters and postcards or through technology if the person uses it. Friends can disappear with dementia but they are needed more than ever.

  • Support someone to make a playlist of their favourite music – there are many websites to help with this including the BBC’s Music and Memories.

  • Use visual clues – if you are sending an email include a photo of yourself in the signature.

Think about surroundings

  • Think about surroundings and the environment. Familiarity of environment is important. New places can be disorientating and confusing.

  • Reduce visual clutter such as loud patterns on carpets and furnishings.

  • Signage is important – make it as clear as possible. Visual clues here too can help eg toilet picture.

  • Reduce background noise. If there is too much noise people can switch off and not try to communicate.

  • Label the contents of cupboards and what is behind doors, especially remember to signpost exits.

  • Use contrasting paint schemes or coloured tape around fittings eg light switches.

  • Make food look appetising as it's common for appetite to change. There may be an increased need for flavour as taste buds are affected. Many people develop a sweet tooth.

Go with the flow

  • Go with the flow. Be flexible on timings and prepared to change plans if necessary.

  • Be prepared for the unexpected and sensitive to changing needs – every day is different.

  • Don’t challenge or tell people they are wrong if they are obviously experiencing a different reality.

  • Remember everyone is different and everyone experiences dementia differently.

A big thank you to everyone who contributed, especially members of the Devizes discussion group, pictured above.