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Top tips for how to include a loved one with dementia in conversation this Christmas

Dementia advice

As dementia progresses, following and joining in a conversation can become harder

This is particularly true at family occasions like Christmas, when there may be several people and different conversations going on.

Creating a calm environment and taking the time to think about conversation-starting questions can help everyone to enjoy the day more. As well as providing useful cues for conversations, these questions can also help families to find out more about their loved one’s past and interests.

Use Christmas memories to prompt the conversation

Before Christmas, reminisce with your loved one to find out more about what makes Christmas special to them. You can incorporate them into your celebrations, making it special and easier for them to enjoy and engage in on the big day.

Start the conversation by sharing a memory like: ‘I remember that we always had our stockings when we woke up but couldn’t have our presents until breakfast was finished – breakfast seemed to go on forever with ham, boiled eggs…’


By reminiscing with the person rather than asking direct questions you help them to relax, this will often make a conversation easier.

Suzanne’s suggestions include:

  1. I remember you always used to… at Christmas
  2. The best present I ever received was…
  3. You always made Christmas such a special time, you started in October making the Christmas cake, we used to love licking the spoon, stirring the cake mix and making a wish…
  4. I remember you loved the carol Away in a Manger (sing together)
  5. You used to get up early to get the turkey in – I don’t know how you did it
  6. Involve the person in peeling vegetables and seek their advice about how to prepare the meal
  7. Morecambe & Wise or the Two Ronnies? Which was the best Christmas television special?
  8. By sharing Christmas traditions before the big day, you can find music and television programmes that they will enjoy and that may spark more Christmas memories during your conversations on the day.

Top communication tools for people with dementia 

Effective communication is important to help people living with dementia avoid confusion and distress. By making a few simple changes, you can transform the way you communicate with your loved one.  

  • Limit distractions.Give some thought to where your loved one will sit and the atmosphere of the room. Try to find a relatively quiet place to talk without distractions like background music or other conversations. If there are several people involved in the conversation, avoid speaking across each other as this can cause confusion. 
  • Be patient. It may take your loved one a bit of time to get their message across, but if they seem to be growing distressed, try to help them if you can. Even if their words don’t make sense, you may be able to find meaning behind them. 
  • Use visualsIf your loved one is struggling to understand you, try using gestures or other visuals in your conversation. 
  • One thing at a timeKeep questions and conversations as simple as you can. Reminiscing with someone can also be easier for them than asking direct questions. 
  • Don’t take it personally. You’ll have good and bad days, but it’s important to try not to take changes in behaviour personally. If you’re finding it difficult to communicate, try putting on their favourite music or going through a ‘memory box’ to spark conversation. 

Read more of our tips for having meaningful conversations with someone living with dementia or download our Listen, talk, connect guide for more information. 

Keep a calm environment

It is important to create an atmosphere where your loved one can join in. Try not to play background music during mealtimes as it is another layer of sound over the sound of talking and eating. This can make the conversation hard to follow, especially for other guests who may be hard of hearing.

Sometimes a person living with dementia may get confused about people’s names, what relationship they have with the person or what point in their life they are currently at. Try not to correct them as it can cause confusion, distress, or embarrassment. You might want to create festive name badges to help.

When talking, establish eye contact so your loved one knows you are talking to them, and they can pick up on visual cues about the conversation. It also helps to speak clearly at a very slightly slower rate than you might usually speak during a family conversation. Try to avoid correcting the person, go with the flow..

Sometime tastes and recognition of food textures can change, the person may start to eat with their fingers, whatever they do try to reassure them it’s OK, don’t make a fuss, and make a note to make it easier with the next meal.

Try to ensure the person is kept hydrated with plenty of water, remember they may need a little prompt to visit the bathroom and ay need to be shown where it is.

Always make sure there is a relaxing and inviting area where your loved one can go if they want some peace and quiet. They may not be able to do a whole day of noise and excitement, so try to give some quiet times away from the crowd throughout the day. Make sure they have a drink available and check in on them to ensure they are happy and comfortable and not in need of some quiet company.

Read more expert advice for celebrating the festive season with a loved one with dementia 


At Care UK, we put individuals at the heart of their care. This ethos helps manage behaviours that challenge for those living with dementia. Read more about person-centred dementia care.

This is a difficult question to answer as it varies depending on the person and their situation. We’ve put together a guide to help you understand where a person living with dementia will be best cared for.

When people living with dementia have unmet needs, they will present behaviours that challenge. We explain how to cope with these changing behaviours here

Person-centred dementia care puts each individual’s needs and desires at the heart of the care they receive. Learn more about caring for someone with dementia.

Explore dementia-friendly activities in our guide to Activity Based Care, As easy as ABC.