Learning how to talk to your loved ones suffering from Alzheimer’s or dementia is crucial for maintaining a healthy relationship. While speaking to people with Alzheimer’s is not always easy, it is possible through practice and can be extremely rewarding. As these diseases progress from forgetfulness to radical changes in personality and functionality, a commitment to patience and listening becomes key. As dementia gradually reduces the effectiveness of a person’s ability to communicate, it is important to always remember your loved one is somewhere in there. With this guide of communication strategies, it becomes possible to to strengthen communication with your aging parent or grandparent.
Communicating in the early stages
In the early stages of Alzheimer’s and dementia, an individual can still engage in conversation and be present in a social context. However, they may begin repeating stories, struggle to find the right word and feel overwhelmed by social activity. It is important to remember that these diseases affect each individual differently. It is best not to make assumptions about their communication at this stage. This stage also presents a lot of difficulty because most times they will seem completely fine, but it might be harder for them to handle conversation. This causes a lot of frustration that happens in this stage. Here are a few ways to ease this stage:
- Be sure to give your loved one lots of time to respond to your questions and to engage with you. Avoid finishing their sentences or interrupting. If they get lost it’s okay to give them time to think about what they are trying to say.
- Speak to this person directly if you are curious to know what they are doing or how they are feeling. Avoid asking about them or speaking about them to a caregiver or family member if they can hear you.
Communicating in the middle stage
This stage of the disease is generally the longest, and can last up to many years. Your loved one will now have a more difficult time communicating. This can happen in a number of ways. It might be hard for them to understand questions, or follow a conversations. Other difficulties could be finding the proper words or understanding how to respond properly. Speaking to people with Alzheimer’s can always have different results, so make sure to see how your loved one is responding, and if it is poorly, change your strategy.
- Try to stick to a topic. Avoid having complicated conversations that follow multiple trains of thought. If you ask one question at a time, and let them fully answer the question it will help them keep their train of thought.
- Hold eye contact as best as you can. It shows that you care about what is being said and that you are actively listening.
- If you are having a conversation in person, it’s important to find a quiet, well lit place free of many distractions that might make focusing more difficult.
- Avoid open ended questions, and try “yes” or “no” answer questions instead and only ask one question at a time.
Communicating in the late stages
At this point, the person with dementia or Alzheimer’s may be relying on nonverbal communication. This includes facial expressions, sounds and hand gestures.
- Always approach them from the front so they can see you and aren’t startled. Be sure to identify yourself with a smile and a gentle voice. Start with easy questions to see what mood they are in, sometimes it might be better to just speak to them, other days they might be able to answer questions more clearly.
- Encourage them to use nonverbal communication if you see they are more comfortable this way. Notice how sometimes the emotion behind the actions are often more important than what is actually being said. Be comfortable using non-verbal communication as well, attempt hand gestures, or pointing to pictures or objects and see if they respond positively that way. This way you can communicate things better to them as well.
Often with dementia patients they will have”good days” and “bad days”. In these cases when you begin a conversation with them, always have a routine of how to start a conversation with them. If you always start conversations in a similar fashion, you can see how they are doing on any particular day. This way you can tweak your questions and the way you speak to them. It’s always important when speaking to people with Alzheimer’s to talk to them like an adult. They may need more explaining or easier questions, but often speaking to them like a child can offend them or agitate them. So speak to them with direct questions but remember you are still speaking to an adult.
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