This article reports findings from a three-year project on ‘Communication patterns and their consequences for effective care’ that explored communication in dementia-care settings. As the proportion of people with dementia living in British care-homes continues to grow, there is a need to understand better their care. Using a range of qualitative methods, the project set out to identify the constituent elements of dementia-care practice and the patterns that characterise day-to-day relations in care homes. The tightly prescribed and standardised nature of the interactions between staff and residents is described: it raises questions about the capacity for dementia care to be truly person-centred. The project found that people with dementia are both capable of communication, and invest much effort in seeking to engage those around them, but are excluded from the monitoring, planning and provision of care in ways that we argue are discriminatory. The case is made for promoting and supporting communication as key skills and competencies for care workers. The value of measuring the level and quality of communication as a means to evaluate care is demonstrated. The authors question the priorities that currently guide care practice and argue that we need to listen to people with dementia and rethink what lies at the heart of dementia care.