Retirement Life
23 August 2022

Supporting a friend with dementia

We all probably know someone in our circle of friends and family who has dementia. And because of the disease’s progressive nature, we’ll probably all know people at different stages of the illness. And sadly, recent research suggests that it’s not going away. According to a recent study from the University of Auckland, the number of people living with dementia in New Zealand will double in the next 30 years.


If you know someone who has dementia, there are some things you can do to support them. As a person’s dementia progresses, difficulties with conversation and communication often develop, making it harder for the person to express themselves and harder to understand what is being said to them. This can cause frustration for both parties. Lee Andrews, Educator and Clinical Leader at Dementia Canterbury, says using clear, direct language that makes sense easily and removes any ambiguities is helpful.

It’s also worth simplifying choices or instructions if the person appears to be struggling,

says Lee. “Sometimes what we don’t do can be just as important as what we do do in maintaining positive communication.” For example, Lee suggests avoiding arguing with the person – even if you are certain that what they are saying is wrong from a factual point of view. “Arguing will likely only make the situation worse by increasing the agitation and frustration for both parties. Instead, try responding to the emotions behind what the person is saying.”

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It’s a tremendous help to just be there for the person and listen to them talk. This might be just a case of holding the space for the person to let off steam or talk about how they are feeling. Accept that these conversations may be difficult or triggering for you. Still, there will hopefully be moments of warmth and laughter for you both. Commenting more and questioning less is often an overarching tip for smooth communication. You can also use words that help to orientate the person, such as “Your old colleague Geoff…” or “Your aunty Lucy…”.


“Research shows that social connection and cognitive stimulation are two interventions that not only help to reduce the risk of a person getting dementia but also in maintaining the brain of someone already diagnosed,” says Lee. 


Also, consider helping the person with dementia take part in activities. It could be as simple as taking them for a walk, doing puzzles together or listening to music. Keeping the mind active can slow the progression of dementia.


One client of Dementia Canterbury says, ”Without the groups and support of Dementia Canterbury, I would be a little old lady sitting at home alone. The groups have helped so much with my dementia, and I love being with other people.”


Lastly, don’t be afraid to ask for help and learn as much as you can about dementia and its different types. Supporting someone with dementia can be very challenging, and it is crucial to have a support system in place. Dementia New Zealand has a wealth of resources on its website to provide practical information about the disease and what can help.


Dementia is a difficult disease to live with, but there are ways to make it easier. By being patient, helping the person stay connected and keeping them active, you can make a world of difference. The person with dementia is still the same person you have loved over the years – that will never change. As Lee says, “There is an awful lot of living well to be done post-diagnosis. A diagnosis of dementia is not the end of the road, but it is the start of a new journey.”


This article is informational only and should not be considered medical advice.

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Written by:

Kathy Catton

Kathy Catton is a freelance writer and editor, based on the Banks Peninsula. She is an experienced feature writer, magazine editor and copywriter. Quick to grasp the crux of any story and tell it in plain English, Kathy enjoys bringing stories to readers that surprise and delight.

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