Conversation Starters for People With Dementia

Let’s imagine you’re going to visit your mother who has Alzheimer’s and lives in a nursing home, or your brother who’s at home with his wife but is quite confused and forgetful. Are you wondering how to pass the time there, or what you should say? Have you been holding off on visiting because you don’t know what to talk about? While not all of these strategies will be effective, here are some conversation starters and activities you can try during your visit.

Daughter and Mother with Dementia Looking at Pictures on Her Phone
Sam Edwards Caiaimage 483596993/ Getty Images

Remember When?

Choose a memory from long ago to talk about, such as the vacations your family used to take together, or the day when the car broke down in the middle of the blizzard. Don’t quiz the person; rather, start out by saying that you had been thinking about that particular event and then share some of the details related to it, such as the fish you caught on that vacation or the type of car the family drove back in the day.

Address Book, Social Directory, or School Yearbook

Find an old address book, church directory or school yearbook and go through the book together. Those names might trigger various memories for your loved one that she’ll enjoy talking about with you.

Photo Albums

Bring pictures that you can go through together. You may be surprised at how good his memory is for names and details of older photos.

Recipe Box or Book

Find your mother’s old, often-used recipes and bring them along on a visit. Reminisce together about her favorite ones to cook, as well as which ones made the family cringe when she made them. You could even make one of her favorites and bring some to her to enjoy if her diet constraints allow.

Tell Me About When You First Fell in Love

Ask her to recall when she first met the person and fell in love, and what she liked most about him.

Read Together

Bring her favorite classic literature book or a book on faith that is meaningful to her. Read through familiar passages together.

Bring Items of Interest

Perhaps your brother has a longstanding hobby of collecting baseball cards. Bring some along to look through and ask his opinion about the value and importance of the cards.

Bring Your Pet If Your Loved One Is an Animal Lover

If your mother loves cats, bring yours to visit her. The benefits of pet therapy are well-established so take the opportunity to encourage her in this way. Of course, if your loved one resides in a facility, be sure to check with them to learn what guidelines are in place for animal therapy.

1 Source
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  1. Peluso S, De Rosa A, De Lucia N, et al. Animal-assisted therapy in elderly patients: evidence and controversies in dementia and psychiatric disorders and future perspectives in other neurological diseases. J Geriatr Psychiatry Neurol. 2018;31(3):149-157. doi:10.1177/0891988718774634

By Esther Heerema, MSW
Esther Heerema, MSW, shares practical tips gained from working with hundreds of people whose lives are touched by Alzheimer's disease and other kinds of dementia.