Helping people with Alzheimer’s communicate can be challenging, but it can greatly improve their daily lives. Over time, Alzheimer’s disease and other forms of dementia diminish a person’s ability to communicate. Everyone’s situation is unique, and changes in communication may not seem different or pronounced during the early stages of Alzheimer’s. As the disease progresses, here are some changes you might notice in your loved one’s behavior:
- Repeating familiar words
- Inventing new words to describe objects
- Losing their train of thought easily
- Reverting to their native language
- Trouble organizing words in logical order
- Being less involved in conversation
While it may become difficult to understand your loved one, communicating with them is one of the best ways to provide comfort and support. This article covers good communication strategies as well as what to avoid.
Good Strategies to Help Alzheimer’s Patients Communicate
Here are some strategies for helping people with Alzheimer’s communicate that you can use when speaking with your loved one.
Get Their Attention
To help Alzheimer’s patients communicate effectively, they need to be aware that you are trying to speak to them. Make sure your loved one is wearing glasses or has their hearing aid on beforehand if they require them. When you start talking, make sure to call their name to get their attention and maintain eye contact throughout to help them focus.
It’s important to speak slowly and clearly when communicating with Alzheimer’s patients. You may have to speak up as well, but remember to keep your tone of voice friendly even when talking at a louder volume.
Let your loved one know you care by not interrupting them. Do your best to let them communicate on their own and give them adequate time to answer. Repeat questions and directions as needed to help your loved one understand what you are asking them to do.
Use Visual Cues
Sometimes the best way to get your point across is by demonstration. You can point to objects or show your loved one how to do a task to help them understand. For example, instead of saying “Please go brush your hair,” pick up a hairbrush and show them.
It can be difficult for those with Alzheimer’s to concentrate, so removing potential distractions can help you communicate better. Turn off the television or radio, or move to a quieter location before speaking to your loved one.
Focus on Feelings
Facts like names, places, and dates are far less important than what your loved one is feeling. Listen for the emotion behind what they are saying. If they are upset or distressed, sympathize with them and offer comfort. For example, if they are upset that they can’t find their father, avoid saying “You father is no longer with us,” and reply instead with “I know you miss your father, and he loves you too. He was always so proud of you.” This will help your loved one feel understood.
Keep Talking to Them
If your loved one is no longer verbal, you should still talk to them. Talk about events, hobbies, and activities that matter to your loved one. It’s not important if the conversation is one-sided, what matters is showing them that you care.
What to Avoid When Communicating with Your Loved One
When helping people with Alzheimer’s communicate, it’s important to remember that they might become easily frustrated. To limit confusion and anxiety, here are some things you should avoid when communicating with your loved one.
Asking multiple questions that cannot be answered simply can be challenging for your loved one to process. Wait for an answer before asking another question. Asking yes or no questions can help your loved one answer more easily as well.
Arguing or Correcting
If your loved one says something you don’t agree with, just let it be. Arguing often makes things worse and increases agitation. Constantly correcting your loved one can also make them feel useless or left out. Be content that you are spending time talking with them, rather than focusing on whether they have all the facts right.
Your loved one is still an adult, even if you are their caregiver. Don’t talk down to them or patronize them with phrases like “good boy” or “good girl.” It’s important to respect your loved one and let them know that you care about them.
Body language can say a lot, so be careful not to show your frustration. Your loved one may mirror back your feelings, making it difficult to communicate positively. Remember to smile and be attentive.
Approaching from Behind
Don’t sneak up on your loved one or tap them from behind. Startling them can give your loved one anxiety or upset them. Remember to approach them from the front so they can see you.
Words are powerful and can affect your loved one’s emotions. Negative language can agitate your loved one, so it’s important to phrase things in a positive way. Instead of saying “Don’t go outside,” say “Let’s stay inside.”
Remember that providing comfort and care is your goal when assisting your loved one. Helping people with Alzheimer’s communicate is one of the best ways to let them feel cared for and understood. Even if you don’t know what to say, that’s okay. Your presence and willingness to try can have a big positive impact on your loved one.
If you are interested in having extra assistance around the house to engage your loved one and provide fun activities, in home caregivers can be a great source of conversation, comfort, and companionship. Contact us today to learn more about the companion services that are available in your area.