Q. As my loved one’s Alzheimer’s disease progresses, I’m finding it harder to communicate with them effectively. One, or both of us, often ends up frustrated. What are some ways I can make it easier for us?
A. Unfortunately, Alzheimer’s disease damages pathways in the brain, increasing difficulties in verbal communication. This often makes it necessary for family members and people with Alzheimer’s to find new ways to interact or to adopt alternative forms of communication.
First, it may be easiest to understand the difficulties your loved one may be facing. Many people with Alzheimer’s disease or other forms of dementia are experiencing challenges like using familiar words repeatedly, having problems with short-term memory, calling items by the wrong name, speaking a prior language, and having a hard time finding the right words when speaking. They may even speak less often. When your loved one’s memory loss moves past the early stages, you may notice even more challenges with communication.
Although it may be difficult, communicating with a person with dementia is crucial to ensuring you’re providing them with the best care possible. Below you’ll find some tips to help provide smoother, more enjoyable, and more productive interactions with your loved one.
Communicating with Your Loved One Who Suffers from Alzheimer’s Disease
Be patient and listen.
Despite their diagnosis, your loved one with dementia is still the same person you know and love. Treat them as you would without this disease. Take the time to listen to their feelings, thoughts and needs. Always remember to be present.
Even through the difficulties, be sure to refrain from interrupting them or helping them unless they ask for help. It can also help to give a person with Alzheimer’s disease plenty of time to respond.
Alter how you communicate with them.
As time goes on, you will need to alter how you communicate with people with dementia. In the early stages, speaking slowly and clearly may work, as can visual cues, simple words and sentences. Be sure to be respectful and stay away from baby talk or talking down to them.
As communication becomes more difficult, avoid confusing and vague statements. Repeat questions or information as needed to help your loved one process what you’re saying. Remember, you can communicate a lot through eye contact and body language, too.
Even for those without dementia, communicating is difficult when there is a lot going on around you. To help your loved one stay present, limit distractions like the radio or the television, move to a less populated or busy place, keep it as quiet as possible, and call them by name to get or maintain their attention.
Remain calm and easygoing.
When you stay calm, your loved one with memory loss is much more likely to stay calm as well. During frustrating moments, refrain from arguing, avoid quizzing, and try to redirect negatives into positives. If your loved one is having trouble answering a question, offer choices or guesses.
Make changes as needed.
Your loved one’s ability to communicate may change at any time. Try new things until you are able to determine what works best for you and your loved one. As their disease continues to progress or as their abilities change, you may need to write things down or adapt to nonverbal communication methods.
In the later stages, there may be cues that your loved one is trying to communicate with you, such as smiling, wincing or making sounds and gestures. Behavioral signs may manifest themselves as shouting, anger, agitation or anxiety. In these times, be aware of your loved one’s – and your own – body language, eye contact and facial expressions, which can often convey more than words. Try to determine and understand the emotions behind the nonverbal cues, words or sounds. Above all, remember that it’s okay to be unsure of what to do or say. It’s your presence, love and respect that are most important.
Engage the senses.
When nonverbal communication becomes critical, try using the senses to communicate and engage with your loved one with memory loss. Try holding their hand or giving a massage with the lotion in their favorite scent. Bake and serve a favorite food. Look at old photographs together. Play their favorite music and sing along together. Read portions of books that spark their interests.
It can also help to reach out to a local care facility or senior living resource that can provide you with support and advice, like Bridges® by EPOCH. Our care team is well versed in communication difficulties and would be happy to share our techniques with you.
Alicia Seaver is Vice President of Memory Care Operations for EPOCH Senior Living and a Certified Memory Impairment Specialist. Every month, she addresses a specific issue related to memory and memory care. If you’re interested in hearing about a particular topic, please send a note to email@example.com.
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