Conversation Starters for Alzheimer’s and Dementia Patients February 19 2013


Caregivers look for ways to engage seniors with Alzheimer's disease or dementia in meaningful conversations throughout the day. Thoughtfully phrased and creatively composed conversation starters can be used to enrich relationships and connect caregivers with dementia patients.

Consider these ideas for using conversation starters when interacting with a person experiencing memory loss:

Start simple.  A very basic conversation starter is, “Hello, how are you?” Try incorporating the person’s name into the greeting. “Good morning, Joan. How are you feeling?” This helps orient the person and gets his or her attention. When speaking—talk in a soft, friendly tone, use short, direct sentences, smile, and make eye contact.

Share your own stories. Talk about your own personal experiences or interests. Tell a story about a family vacation, a wedding, or a pet. Instead of asking a person with dementia if they remember a particular event, ask questions such as, “Do you like weddings?” or “What pets did you have when you were a child?”

Look at photographs. Photographs can provide opportunities to reminisce and prompt a conversation. Photos from books, magazines, or newspapers are sometimes easier to discuss than family photos. It is often less challenging for the person with dementia to talk about a “generic” photo rather than try to remember a particular family member, place, or event.

Draw, paint, or collage. Art therapy can enable dementia patients to express themselves and their feelings through their creativity. By engaging in an art project with the dementia patient, caregivers can establish a connection with the person. Discussing the mediums they prefer or the colors they enjoy can enhance the overall experience.

Interact while watching TV. If there’s a television program or a movie the person enjoys, discuss the various aspects of the show together while watching. Sharing a conversation about the program, an actor or actress, or the theme of the show or film can make viewing a more interactive and meaningful experience.

Stimulate the senses. Tasting a favorite food, going outside and listening to the sounds of birds, experiencing the scent of lavender or the aroma of a pie baking, or handling a variety of tactile items all provide sensory stimulation and may evoke memories and prompt a conversation.

Music and reminiscing. Music has a way of transporting you to a different time and place and can be used to unlock memories thought lost. Select popular songs from an appropriate era to listen to or to sing together. Between songs, ask questions that evoke memories of relationships, experiences, events, etc.

Enjoy a game together. Modifying a game to include fewer pieces or playing a shorter version, may ensure a more enjoyable, successful experience. Pause during the game to talk together. During a game of checkers you may ask, “Who taught you how to play checkers?” or “Did you like to play board games when you were a child?

Read together. Reading is an activity that can be beneficial for people in the early, middle, and even the later stages of dementia. Select books that are designed specifically for adults living with a memory-loss condition. Consider books with large-print text and big, vivid photographs. Try reading aloud, pausing to share stories and ask questions.

Communication connects us to each other. It allows us to relate on a personal level. It can spark the imagination, promote self-reflection, and provide a way to find meaning in our experiences. Participating in a conversation can foster warm relationships and bring joy and comfort to adults experiencing memory loss.

Shadowbox Press Conversation Cards are developed to provide dementia activities for seniors living with Alzheimer's disease or a related dementia. Each of our two decks features vivid photography, large-print text, and more than 450 questions. The questions are designed to encourage adults living with memory loss to reminisce, recall memories, share stories, and improve the quality of engagement between themselves and their caregivers. For more information or to place your order, call us toll-free at (888) 796-6333.