REAL Communication 





REAL is an acronym made up of four essential aspects of good dementia communication: 

  • Reminiscence
  • Empathic engagement
  • Active Listening
  • Life story


The REAL Communication Framework was developed in 2009 from ten years’ experience of the challenges of engaging meaningfully across the generations, which included caring for and working with people living with dementia in different settings and also through monthly volunteering for the charity Contact the Elderly (now Re-Engage) for 28 years.


The framework elements can help deliver a more normalised and enjoyable quality of life for an older person with dementia, while supporting the resilience of those around them.


REAL Communication interactive workshops were developed from the evidence, to provide caregivers with deeper knowledge, simple techniques and useful strategies to communicate with people with dementia more enjoyably and meaningfully. The application of the framework supports caregivers to develop more connected relationships based on getting to know the person and their history, going beyond the qualities we all seek, such as respect, dignity and person-centred-ness.


Benefits of REAL Communication knowledge


  • Dementia develops incrementally, is incurable and a unique experience for every person living with it. 
  • The person’s wellbeing depends in part on their explicit and implicit long-term memories of life experiences and their responses to them.
  • Reminiscence, empathic engagement, active listening and life story exploration are key to good communication with all older people and to their wellbeing. And of course, it affects our own as well.
  • Knowledge and understanding of a person’s background and life experience can help us understand their current needs and preferences in a more nuanced way and means we can respond to them with greater sensitivity.



About Sarah Reed


Sarah Reed founded Many Happy Returns in 2008 as the result of ten years caring for her mother, who lived with Alzheimer’s disease and vascular dementia. Noticing how challenged carers were to have 'real' conversations with the residents of the care homes where her mother lived, she started to research the fundamentals of older people's relational needs: conversation, memory, reminiscence, listening and of course, dementia.


She developed a philosophy and mantra: 

"We can only care for people unless we care about them and we can only care about them if we know who they are."


She also developed, designed and published unique 1940s and 1950s 'Chatterbox' cards which make encounters across the generations more fun and rewarding for everyone involved, through rich, enjoyable conversation.


Sarah is a long-term volunteer and trustee of Contact the Elderly, a CQC 'expert by experience' and serves on the SUCAB academic advisory board at City University.


Prior to her career turn-about, for thirty-five years, Sarah was an award-winning creative producer in media production.

She is married, has two adult children and a slightly dodgy collection of early twentieth century self-improvement books.



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