How to help someone with dementia

What is dementia?

Dementia is the term that's used to describe an ongoing decline in brain function. It can affect memory, language and the ability to problem-solve, so much so that it impacts and interferes with daily life. Alzheimer's disease is the most type of dementia.

More than 400,000 people live with dementia in the UK. It can affect anyone but is found most commonly in older groups. Dementia affects areas of the brain that are involved in memory, thinking, language and judgement, but it can also affect mobility, breathing and the ability to swallow.

While there's no cure for dementia, providing the right support to someone can still make a huge difference to their quality of life. Every person living with the condition goes through their own unique journey. This means it's important to be flexible in the way you care for them and to think about the type of support they need as an individual.

This page can help you to understand what someone who's been diagnosed with dementia is experiencing, and provide you with some practical advice on the best way to support your loved one.

Understanding the symptoms of dementia

When you’re caring for someone with dementia, it’s likely you’ll see changes in their moods and behaviour. These can vary considerably depending on the type of dementia a person has been diagnosed with, with factors such as lifestyle, personality and physical limitations also playing a part.

You may notice changes such as memory loss, or an inability to complete everyday tasks, such as getting dressed or making a cup of tea. They might become disorientated in places they were once familiar with, or forget the names of loved ones. Their sleeping patterns may change and they may become more fearful or depressed.

Recognising how the person feels can help you understand the impact that dementia is having on them, and the ways in which you can provide care and support. Changes in behaviour may also mean their needs aren't being met. It’s important to pay attention to their responses, helping you to identify any ways you can adjust your support and help them to live well.

Ways you can help someone with dementia

How you can help someone with their daily routine will depend on the person and the type of dementia they're living with. Ways to support someone with dementia include:


  • Encourage them to exercise and keep active. This can bring a range of benefits, including helping to maintain skills for longer
  • Help them to maintain a good diet and fluid intake. Offer regular access to snacks and drinks, as sometimes people may not be able to recall when it’s time to eat
  • Ensure the environment they live in is dementia friendly. Create signs using both pictures and words so it's clear where the bathroom, kitchen and other rooms are. Use contrasting colours to emphasise important areas or items such as toilet doors, toilet seats and crockery. Try to avoid lots of mirrors and strong patterns
  • Reduce unnecessary noise and distractions
  • Encourage regular social contact with family and friends
  • Leave a calendar or notices out that say when meal times are or what time you’re visiting
  • Make sure items of interest, like newspapers and magazines, are easy to find. Leave out photo albums with the names of people, who they are and dates written on the back of photos
  • Adapt activities and hobbies to suit the person. As dementia progresses, some people may no longer be interested in spending an hour or so completing a specific hobby and may only enjoy the first 20 to 30 minutes

Communicating with a person who has dementia

People with dementia can have difficulties communicating, which may lead to them losing confidence or withdrawing from social situations. It's important to keep talking to each other to help them express themselves and help you get a better understanding of how they're feeling.

Before you begin speaking, make sure you're at the person’s eye level and there's good lighting. Think about their physical requirements; they may have glasses or hearing aids that can help. Try to remove any unnecessary noises or distractions, such as the TV or radio.

Make sure you speak clearly and use words that the person is familiar with. If you’re discussing something specific, you might want to show the person the item. You could try using flash cards with words or short sentences to aid their understanding.

How to ease a person with dementia’s stresses and frustrations

At times, the person living with dementia may display a stress or distressed reaction, which can be equally distressing for the person supporting them. There are many factors that can cause someone with dementia to become stressed, such as a particular environment, person or people, TV show, lighting, mirrors, patterns on items, a picture or even a word that may have been misunderstood.

When a person with dementia becomes frustrated, you can offer support by acknowledging what they're trying to say, as to them, this is very real. Rather than trying to bring them back to our reality, enter their reality. The person may be unable to recall their memories from the past few years and may believe they're now back living at a time where they were much younger.

Try to establish what it is they may be trying to say and help them to say it. You can use phrases such as “what do you think?” and “how do you feel?”, as asking direct questions may exacerbate any stress they're feeling.

There may be times when the best course of action is to find a distraction. You could reminisce about past good times and perhaps pull out a photo book.

How to manage behaviours that challenge

As dementia progresses, some people can develop behaviours that challenge. It's important to remember that they're not simply behaving badly, but their behaviour may be a result of their dementia, an underlying health problem, their general environment or the care they're receiving.

In this situation, following the tips below can help:


  • First and foremost, acknowledge what the person is trying to say
  • Convey that you want to help
  • Use reflective listening, where you paraphrase and restate the person's feelings and words so they feel understood and have the opportunity to focus their ideas
  • Offer reassurance, understanding their needs
  • Reduce distractions
  • Stay calm and neutral, and be willing and empathetic
  • Watch for non-verbal communication


We recommend that you get medical advice if your loved one continues to behave in a way that's outside of their normal behaviour, as there may be an underlying medical cause such as an infection or mental health need.

Reaching out for dementia support

If you have any doubts about how to provide support to someone living at home with dementia, or are looking for further information, please seek advice from the Alzheimer’s Society. They can provide you with practical guidance, and will also be able to put you in touch with any additional support or services the person needs.

You can also turn to Priory and our dementia care services. We have care homes across the UK that have been developed to meet the needs of residents with dementia. Our compassionate team provides specialist services to ensure that people in their care can maintain both their independence and dignity.

Contact us to make an enquiry or for more information

If you'd like to find out more about our dementia care homes, which offer long term stays and respite services, please make an enquiry online or call us today.

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