“In Alzheimer’s [disease] the mind dies first: Names, dates, places – the interior scrapbook of an entire life-fade into mists of non-recognition.”
As Matt Clark’s quote suggests, those suffering from Alzheimer’s and dementia lose something essential about the past, and perhaps, themselves, which can be a very painful and difficult process.
In addition to a host of mental and physical changes, Alzheimer’s disease gradually impacts a person’s ability to communicate. Not only do people with dementia have more difficulty expressing thoughts and emotions, they also have more trouble understanding others.
A person with Alzheimer’s disease may become easily confused and have frequent lapses in memory. He or she may struggle to find the right words to express him or herself, or may forget the meaning of words and phrases. The person also may rely on gestures, especially as his or her verbal skills decline.
Although Alzheimer’s diminishes a person’s ability to communicate, it is important to remember the core person you love and know is still there. As caregivers, supporters, and healers we can be the light that illuminate the dark sky for loved ones coping with Alzheimer’s Disease.
Here we provide strategies you can use to improve communication with your loved one with Alzheimer’s disease and tips to help you and the person with dementia understand on another better.
Helping the person with Alzheimer’s Communicate with you:
Changes in communication are unique to each person. Common problems include difficulty finding words, using familiar words over and over, losing one’s train of thought, cursing, and relying on gestures.
Communicating with a person with dementia requires a great deal of patience and understanding. Some techniques for helping a person with Alzheimer’s communicate with you include:
1. Be patient and supportive – make it clear that you are listening and genuinely trying to understand what is being said.
2. Show your interest – Maintain good eye contact to show the person that you care about is being said.
3. Offer comfort and reassurance – If he or she is struggling to communicate, assure them that it is okay.
4. Give the person time – Give the person time and space to describe and think about what they are trying to say. Do not interrupt.
5. Avoid criticizing or correcting – Be careful not to chastise the person by telling them what they are saying is wrong. Instead, listen and try to find the meaning in what is being said. Repeat what was said to help clarify the thought.
6. Don’t argue – If the person says something you don’t agree with, avoid arguing and just let it be. Arguing usually only makes things worse and can make the person with Alzheimer’s very upset and agitated.
7. Offer a guess – If the person is searching for a word or name, try guessing what the person means.
8. Encourage nonverbal communication – If you don’t understand what is being said, ask the person to point or gesture.
9. Limit distractions – Find a quiet where you will not be interrupted when you speak with the person. This will help the person with Alzheimer’s focus on their thoughts.
10. Target feelings, not facts – What is the emotion being expressed? Feelings can speak louder than words.
The best ways for you to communicate with a person with Alzheimer’s:
1. Turn questions into answers – Try providing a solution rather than a question. For example say, “The bathroom is right there” instead of asking if they have to use the bathroom.
2. Avoid turns-of-phrase – Describe actions plainly and avoid confusing expression. Instead of saying “Hop in”, say “please come here. Your shower is ready.”
3. Avoid using vague words – Instead of saying “here it is” try saying “Here is your coat”
4. Place vocal emphasis on key words – Stress the words in a sentence you most want to draw attention to like “Here is your juice”
5. Turn negatives into positives – Instead of saying, “Don’t go there” say “Let’s go here”. Offer solutions not correction.
6. Use visual cues – Point or touch the items you want the person to use or begin the task for them. For example, touch the person’s fork to guide them towards eating.
7. Do not quiz – Avoid asking “Do you remember when…?” or from saying things like “you should know who that is..”
8. Give simple explanations – Avoid using logical and reason at great length. Give clear, concise, complete responses.
9. Write things down – Try using simple written notes as reminders.
As a person’s capacity to communicate lessens, keep in mind the power of non-verbal communication. The presence, touch, gestures, and attention of caregivers can help to communicate acceptance, reassurance, and love to a person with Alzheimer’s disease. In all cases, treat your loved one with dignity and respect. Don’t speak down to the person or speak to others as if he or she is a child or isn’t present.
What techniques have worked for you when communicating with a loved one who has Alzheimer’s Disease?