Category Archives: Dementia

Talking Mats topics


We’re always amazed to hear from people about the variety of topics they cover using Talking Mats –from how someone is managing their self care or domestic tasks, to arranging a wedding, or thinking about whats important at a funeral.

As a communication tool Talking Mats maximises a person’s capacity to reflect on a topic and express their view.   It gives confidence in decision making.


Here are some other topics we’ve heard about recently.

  • As a conversation tool in class
  • Pupil voice in school improvement plan
  • Client contribution to meetings and review day placement
  • Respite
  • Operations e.g. gastrostomy
  • Health
  • Postural management
  • Where to live
  • Childs opinions in relation to GIRFEC
  • Respite feedback/choices
  • SW assessments
  • Choices available within service
  • Going somewhere new
  • Transitions
  • Problem solving ie horse riding, identifying the problem
  • Eating and Drinking
  • Keeping Safe
  • Social Media

What do you want to talk about?  There is no limit!

Self-manage by using Digital Talking Mats

We are now half way through our project, funded by The Health and Social Care ALLIANCE Scotland, whose overall aim is to empower people with a range of long term conditions, with and without additional communication difficulties, to self-manage their own health and well-being by using Digital Talking Mats.


We have carried out all the initial visits and 16 follow-up visits and participants are sending in their completed mats, choosing whichever topics they want from the digital Health and Well-being resource. At the time of writing this blog we have received 137 completed mats.

We have received very positive feedback with many examples of how people are using the Digital Talking Mats to self-manage.

Here are 3 examples:

One participant with learning disability has diabetes. Through using the Digital Talking Mats she has stopped buying takeaways every night and is now buying M&S ‘Balanced for You’ meals. This is a huge step forward for her as she refused to discuss healthier eating before.

LD Self care

A man with early onset dementia has identified that he used to enjoy singing and has decided for the first time in his life to join a choir. This is not something that had come up in conversation before. Despite the diagnosis of dementia he has realised that he is still keen to try new things.


Demntia Leisure


The wife of a man with severe aphasia said ‘This (Leisure away) has highlighted how few things he can do away from home. We discussed this but can’t see how we can change the situation.’ However at the second visit he used the same mat and indicated that he had been thinking about his mobility and was about to start swimming and a fitness class.

Stroke Leisure
We already have an increased awareness of the meaning of self-management as we observe how participants are using the Digital Talking Mats to think about their situation, state their own views and share them with carers/support workers. We are also noticing that there is a shift in some relationships as the carers/support workers realise that the person with the long term conditions can make decisions and express their own views rather than having decisions made for them.

Does he like fairy cakes? Facilitating involvement in care

fairy cake 1

We are very grateful to Mary Walsh, Senior Speech and Language Therapist at St Mary’s Hospital in Dublin, for her Blog ;Does he like fairy cakes? ‘ It has been taken from her report on a project which looked at how speech and language therapists can facilitate the involvement of people with dementia to become more active participants in the decision making process around dysphagia management at the end stage of dementia. The project was funded by the Irish Hospice Foundation Changing Minds Programme

 The project aims were:

  1. To improve person centred care in relation to residents’ food and drink preferences and dislikes
  2. To actively involve the residents of the dementia specific unit in the decision making process around their dysphagia (swallowing) management particularly at the end stage of their lives.

In order to find out the food and drink preferences and dislikes of the residents, the team carried out staff questionnaires and family questionnaires. They found that, although these were useful in getting a quick overview, there were a lot of unanswered questions.

The team also used Talking Mats and found it to be a powerful way to explore the residents’ food and drinks preferences and dislikes when used with suitable candidates. Participants appeared to really enjoy the experience including looking at pictures of the completed mats afterwards. This may be because they felt heard, that their views mattered and/or that they felt empowered. The information was important for current Dysphagia management, and also as an advanced directive in the documented evidence of the residents’ wishes in the recorded pictures of completed mats.

 Brief Case Study:  Does he like fairy cakes?

Talking Mats was used with a gentleman who may have been assumed to be unsuitable to use Talking Mats as he was assessed as having late stage dementia. However, this man engaged readily in the Talking Mats interview and appeared to be happy to have his views recorded. Also, there was a much higher level of correlation than variance with Talking Mats and both the staff questionnaire and the family questionnaire thus further indicating that he was a suitable candidate. ‘Fairy cakes’ was something that this resident reportedly liked in both the staff questionnaire and the family questionnaire. However, the gentleman indicated twice on Talking Mats that he disliked fairy cakes.

 A number of actions are proposed in the report including :

  1. Continue to use Talking Mats as appropriate in the dementia specific residential unit and the rehabilitation wards of St. Mary’s Hospital.
  2. Inform the multi-disciplinary team of the merits of Talking Mats. This tool can also be used to explore other important issues for suitable residents/ patients on a case by case basis.


It is essential to challenge our assumptions in our dealings with people with dementia. Truly person centred care takes time and patience where assumptions are challenged. Also, it is essential to listen to what residents tell us verbally, or through a supported communication system such as Talking Mats or non-verbally through tone of voice, facial expressions or gestures, and to act according to what is being communicated.

To read the full report please contact Mary Walsh at To find out more about a Talking Mats resource that specifically focuses on finding out views on eating and drinking then please click here 

A board game to improve communication

Communication Game


Delighted to introduce you to ‘The Communication Game’ : a board game for staff to improve their communication skills.

How we  listen, talk and engage with people is fundamental to the quality and effectiveness of health and social care services. Although communication underpins everything we do in a work context, it can be a difficult topic for staff to talk easily about. Add to that the possibility of service users having an additional communication support need, through reasons like stroke, learning disability or dementia, then there is much potential for things to go awry and  unfortunately, they often do. ‘Poor communication’ is cited as the most common cause of frustration in complaints about services.

The Communication Game was developed by Focus Games, NHS Education for Scotland (NES) and Talking Mats. It is a learning tool to help staff working in the health & social care sector increase their knowledge and skills around communication.  The Communication Game is fun and easy to play. It can be played with or without a facilitator, and allows staff groups to have discussions and reflect on their communication skills. It allows them the chance to learn from each other. It will improve knowledge, but more importantly enable them to think about the small steps they can make to improve their interactions.

The project grew out of two previous projects funded by NES: Making Communication Even Better and Through a Different Door. In these projects, it was recognised that the experience of services for people with a communication support need is something of a lottery. For them, there was a considerable difference in the experience of interacting with a staff member who was empathetic and able adapt to their communication, to interacting with a member of staff who was struggling and unable to adapt their interaction. Training and understanding of inclusive communication practice is key. It has been a great privilege for Talking Mats to continue to support the work of the previous 2 projects and work with Focus Games Ltd to develop The Communication Game. Support during the development process from the Stroke Association Scotland, Capability Scotland, RCSLT, Scottish Care, Communication Forum, Queen Margaret University and NHS Ayrshire & Arran SLT Department have been invaluable, and we are very grateful; also to NHS Education for Scotland for their continued input and funding.

If you are working with staff in the health and social care sector, then this will be a great resource for you. You can get The Communication Game from the Focus Games online shop. It is guaranteed to promote laughter learning, and a touch of competitive team spirit. Most importantly, it will be a catalyst to help develop staff communication, making interactions better for people with communication support needs.


You can find out more about the game at

, and follow the game on Twitter on @Comm_Game.


Get your copy at

Talking Mats training for families living with dementia

Stewart and Grace cropped

This blog summarises a project we have completed providing Talking Mats training for families living with dementia. A key aspect of the work done by Talking Mats is to find ways to improve communication for families living with long term conditions. In particular dementia is a long term condition where deterioration in communication will eventually affect everyone. This makes it increasingly difficult to ensure that the person with dementia continues to be involved in decisions about their life.
We have completed a project funded by Health and Social Care ALLIANCE Scotland. Training in the use of Talking Mats was given to families living with dementia and staff who worked with these families. The Alliance Family Training final report highlights how this training helped people with dementia to communicate their views and be more involved in making decisions about their lives.

Families identified issues relating to self-management that they had not previously been aware of and new insights emerged as the following comments illustrate.(click on box to enlarge)

Dementia quotes

For some family members an important outcome was that Talking Mats helped them see that their spouse was satisfied with many aspects of his/her life. They found this very reassuring as many assumed that the person with dementia was frustrated and discontented.

The following is an example of how using Talking Mats helped with self-management.

When using Talking Mats on the topic of Where you live, G explained that he found it difficult to find his way to the toilet in the night. As a result his wife bought special senior night lights to help him which solved their problem. As a result, night times improved for both of them.

Dementia family training

For further examples and information read the full report here Alliance Family Training final report  and for further information about Talking Mats Family training please contact