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6 Positive Ways to Approach Someone with Dementia

A positive approach sets you up for dementia care success

Something as simple as how you approach (walk up to or start interacting with) someone with Alzheimer’s or dementia can set the tone for the whole interaction.

Because the person with dementia’s brain has been damaged, they’re no longer processing information in the same way we do.

That’s why our natural instincts for approaching someone might seem scary or aggressive from their point of view.

If we unintentionally startle them, it can trigger their natural “fight or flight” response and cause conflict.

Learning to approach someone in a non-threatening way sets the stage for a positive interaction.

And helping someone feel at ease makes it much more likely that they’ll cooperate with the task at hand.

We found an excellent free video in which expert dementia educator Teepa Snow demonstrates successful techniques for how to approach someone with dementia.

She also shows why some of our approaches can seem scary or threatening – the opposite of our kind intentions.

This 8 minute video clip is from a training class that Teepa is giving to assisted living staff, but the techniques are 100% applicable to any caregiving situation.

Having her demonstrate on staff members brings the scenario to life and makes it easy to see how common actions could be misinterpreted.

Here, we highlight Teepa’s 6 key techniques for a non-threatening way to approach someone with dementia.


6 essential techniques for how to approach someone with dementia

1. Approach from the front, never from behind (35 seconds in video)

  1. It’s a natural human response to be startled by or uncomfortable with someone unseen coming up from behind and touching them or getting right in their face.

  2. The person might respond with fight (hit out), flight (try to get away), or fright (freeze and grab on to something).

  3. What this approach can look like from their perspective – at 2:13 in video

2. Approach very slowly to give their brain time to process (3:12 in video)

  1. If you zoom up (from their damaged brain’s perspective), they’ll be startled and again respond with fight, flight, or fright.

  2. A good pace is to count “one-one-thousand” per step.

3. Avoid a confrontational stance (4:32 in video)

  1. Instead of standing right in front of (and over) someone, use a supportive stance. Stand at arms length at their side (dominant, writing hand side is preferred because that instinctively makes them feel more comfortable).

  2. What this looks like from their perspective – at 4:41 in video

  3. Pro tip: Don’t mistake a smile or laugh for true comfort or happiness. It could be a nervous smile or laugh while they’re actually uncomfortable and figuring out how to respond. See the volunteer’s nervous laughter at 6:05 in the video when Teepa looms over him.

4. Crouch down to eye level or below, don’t bend forward (6:34 in video)

  1. Bending forward puts your face too close to theirs, causing discomfort

  2. They feel like their in control, so they’re more likely to cooperate

5. Offer your hand, don’t grab or pull (7:11 in video)

  1. When someone grabs or pulls you, the automatic response is to pull away and resist.

  2. When you offer your hand, they choose to take it, which makes them more likely to cooperate.

6. Putting it all together (7:48 in video)

  1. In this section, Teepa puts all the steps together and demonstrates how approach the person in a way that is most likely to be comfortable for them.

  2. Pro tip: Notice Teepa’s hand position and how she takes his hand (7:55 in video). This hand-under-hand position is an essential technique that she often teaches. This hand position is the safest for both of you, provides greater comfort to the person with dementia, and gives you more control.

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By DailyCaring Editorial Team

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