Being a good friend to someone affected by dementia

International Friendship Day on 30th July celebrates the very best pals that stick with you through thick and thin.

Maintaining a friendship when one of you is living with dementia – or caring for someone with dementia – can make even the most established friendships feel uncertain.

A diagnosis of dementia does not mean friendships with loved ones need to end. Here are some tips from people who have attended our Empowered Conversations course:

  • The most important thing to remember is your friend is still the same person and they’ll have wishes that should be respected as far as possible.
  • Old friends can offer a precious gift other can’t! Trips down memory lane with an old photo album or simply reminiscing over a cup of tea can help a friend with dementia to feel connected to the people they love.
  • Sharing your favourite songs or doing the things you previously did together can be the glue that keeps relationships strong.
  • Over the years, friends learn to convey a thousand thoughts in just one shared look. Make time to visit your friends.

Continuing to have meaningful conversations with a friend with dementia may become more difficult.  Through discussions with people affected by dementia we know that friends and family can drift away after a diagnosis.  Maybe this is to avoid those difficult moments, conversations that become a bit trickier.  Not knowing what to do, say or how you can help.  We can’t make things better, but we can be there!

So here are some pointers around conversations;

It can feel tempting to fill silences that once didn’t exist between yourself and a friend.  Get comfy with the silences; use this as an opportunity to just be with your friend!

Questions can cause stress and a person with dementia may become confused and withdraw from you and the conversation. Instead of giving up, try using our Invitation to Respond technique.  Check out the example Invitation to Respond statements.

Using statements rather than questions can take the pressure off, you’ve got a whole library of topics that you know they are interested in.  Leave time for them to respond. If they don’t chip in, move on. No pressure, no problem.

Don’t forget to look out for friends who are carers of people with dementia too. Caring can be difficult and isolating – they often need the hand of friendship extending to them more than most.  On a recent course one of the attendees shared how friends and family always asked about her husband but never about her!  Keep talking to them, letting them know they can unload on you and including them in plans even if their caring responsibilities may preclude them joining in. 

If you’re interested in developing your communication skills to stay connected to loved ones living with dementia, check out our upcoming free Empowered Conversations workshops.