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How To Talk To A Person With Alzheimer’s

Make Time For Reflection

How to Talk to Someone With Dementia

At each new stage of dementia, you have to alter your expectations about what your loved one is capable of. By accepting each new reality and taking time to reflect on these changes, you can better cope with the emotional loss and find greater satisfaction in your caregiving role.

Keep a daily journal to record and reflect on your experiences. By writing down your thoughts, you can mourn losses, celebrate successes, and challenge negative thought patterns that impact your mood and outlook.

Count your blessings. It may sound counterintuitive in the midst of such challenges, but keeping a daily gratitude list can help chase away the blues. It can also help you focus on what your loved one is still capable of, rather than the abilities theyve lost.

Value what is possible. In the middle stages of dementia, your loved one still has many abilities. Structure activities to invite their participation on whatever level is possible. By valuing what your loved one is able to give, you can find pleasure and satisfaction on even the toughest days.

Improve your emotional awareness. Remaining engaged, focused, and calm in the midst of such tremendous responsibility can challenge even the most capable caregivers. By developing your emotional awareness skills, however, you can relieve stress, experience positive emotions, and bring new peace and clarity to your caretaking role.

Dont Put Off The Conversation

Drew encourages families to have a talk about Alzheimers symptoms and plan for care as early as possible even before a family member exhibits signs of the disease.

But even when someone is already in the early stages of Alzheimers, they may still be able to express their wishes and have a voice in their future care.

I have never had a family come to me and say, Weve talked about this too soon, says Drew. Its always the reverse. They always wish they had done these things at the beginning instead of waiting. In some cases, families wait too long to put things in order and have conversations when a person is still well enough to let you know what his or her preferences are.

Furthermore, the sooner people get medical advice about potential Alzheimers symptoms, the better.

Early signs can indicate Alzheimers, or maybe its something different, says Drew. It may be something that is very treatable and curable.

Although there are no treatments to cure Alzheimers or stop it from progressing, some medication can help decrease symptoms for a limited time.

Some medications seem to work better the earlier people start them, so there is that benefit, says Drew.

RELATED: How Alzheimers Disease Is Diagnosed

Give One Instruction At A Time

Granted, this is sometimes easier said than done when life gets busy and youre in a rush!

Still, giving one instruction at a time can make communication much easier.;

Multi-tasking is hard enough for adults without cognitive impairments, so you can imagine what it might be like for those living with dementia.

It may take your parent a while to get their words out, so hold back from asking further questions before theyre able to answer.

Repeating the question or rephrasing it slightly differently can help move the conversation along.;

Try to give your loved one at least 20-30 seconds to respond.

Read Also: What Is The Difference Between Dementia And Senility

How To Adjust Your Expectations

Learning how to talk to a person living with dementia involves adjusting your expectations and then changing how you approach conversations.

According to, a web-based caregiver training program of the Elizabeth McGown Training Institute, When caring for someone who has the disease, the most important thing to take care of is that;persons feelings.;A person with memory loss cant remember the minute before, they dont know whats going to happen in the next minute. They cant do that kind of thinking, so how they feel right now is the most important thing to pay attention to.

  • Resist the urge to correct. If they forget something you just told them, avoid saying things like, We talked about that just a few minutes ago. Dont you remember? Chances are they genuinely dont. A better response is to acknowledge what theyve said and then casually change the topic. Let go of the desire to correct them. Its not going to help them, and its likely only going to frustrate you. The sooner you recognize that expecting them to behave normally is an unproductive exercise, the more likely youll have a successful visit.
  • Try to understand and adapt to their understanding of the world. Its not uncommon for people with dementia to come unstuck from time and think theyre living in the past, at least momentarily. If this happens, go with the flow, rather than trying to steer them back into present-day reality.
  • Other questions?

    How To Talk To Someone With Dementia Or Alzheimers

    What to know when talking to someone with Alzheimer

    People with Alzheimer’s disease and dementia live with brain damage that affects their thought processes, memory, and behavior. While their behavior can be upsetting and frustrating for you, it’s even harder for them. It’s important to be mindful of how you talk to someone with dementia or Alzheimer’s.

    Recommended Reading: How Does Dementia Kill You

    Dont Use Slang Or Figures Of Speech

    As dementia progresses, it can become harder for someone to understand what youre trying to tell them. For example, telling a loved one with Alzheimers disease that its “no use crying over spilled milk” might result in him looking to see where the milk has spilled, rather than end up comforting him or encouraging him not to focus on a past problem.

    In fact, the proverb interpretation test, which asks the test taker to interpret abstract ideas such as the spilled milk reference above, is one way to screen for symptoms of dementia.

    Ways To Communicate With A Person With Dementia

    • Stand or sit where the person can see and hear you as clearly as possible usually this will be in front of them, and with your face well-lit. Try to be at eye-level with them, rather than standing over them.
    • Be as close to the person as is comfortable for you both, so that you can clearly hear each other, and make eye contact as you would with anyone.
    • Communicate clearly and calmly.

    Also Check: How To Move A Parent With Dementia To Assisted Living

    How Alzheimers Affects Communication

    I knew that the first step to easier video chatting with my grandma was to understand what was causing her difficulties in the first place.

    Alzheimers disease is much more than memory loss. Its believed to account for 60 to 80 percent of cases of dementia.

    Its also a neurodegenerative disease with a wide array of symptoms, including visual-perceptual changes. On top of that, it often involves difficulties with problem-solving, speaking, writing, orientation, and otherwise familiar tasks.

    All of these symptoms mean that for someone with Alzheimers, talking over the phone or video can be disorienting. They can no longer rely on nonverbal cues to help them communicate.

    They may not even understand that they can interact with the screen or that its you on the screen in the first place.

    Kari Burch, OTD, an occupational therapist at Memory Care Home Solutions, has been providing telehealth to people with Alzheimers since the beginning of the pandemic.

    According to Burch, there are specific symptoms that make telecommunication challenging. These include:

    • reduced language processing skills
    • slower processing times in general
    • reduced patience and increased irritability
    • disorientation and confusion
    • difficulty navigating technology

    If its difficult to comprehend what youre saying, its difficult to interact and answer questions appropriately, Burch says.

    Combined with the frustration and confusion of memory loss, the entire experience may be especially challenging.

    Focus On The Present Moment

    How to Talk to Someone with Dementia

    Its a natural conversational reflex to talk about the past, but this has its obvious challenges for someone with Alzheimers disease.

    While everyone is different, memory loss in Alzheimers disease does follow a pattern.

    According to the Alzheimers Association, short-term memory loss of newly learned information is a feature of early Alzheimers. As the disease progresses, long-term memories such as important past events, dates, and relationships may be affected too.

    As my grandmas disease progressed, I noticed that if I asked her what she did that day or what she had for lunch, she would say I dont know. This often resulted in her getting uncomfortable and confused.

    I knew that I had to change our conversation topics.

    Now I try to focus on the present moment. Ill describe my surroundings and ask her to describe hers. I tell her what the weather is like where I am and ask her to look out her window and tell me about the weather there.

    Focusing on sensory experiences, like the weather, what youre wearing, or even if you feel hot or cold helps keep conversation in the present.

    Read Also: What Is The Difference Between Dementia And Senility

    Preserving Your Loved Ones Independence

    Take steps to slow the progression of symptoms. While treatments are available for some symptoms, lifestyle changes can also be effective weapons in slowing down the diseases progression. Exercising, eating and sleeping well, managing stress, and staying mentally and socially active are among the steps that can improve brain health and slow the process of deterioration. Making healthy lifestyle changes alongside your loved one can also help protect your own health and counter the stress of caregiving.

    Help with short-term memory loss. In the early stages, your loved one may need prompts or reminders to help them remember appointments, recall words or names, keep track of medications, or manage bills and money, for example. To help your loved one maintain their independence, instead of simply taking over every task yourself, try to work together as a partnership. Let your loved one indicate when they want help remembering a word, for example, or agree to check their calculations before paying bills. Encourage them to use a notebook or smartphone to create reminders to keep on hand.

    Time Your Visit Right

    People experiencing dementia may have memory loss, but they still benefit from the familiarity of a routine. Having a predictable pattern to the day can be calming and reassuring. You dont want to disrupt that routine so check with caregivers to determine the best time for a visit.

    In addition, many people with Alzheimers disease experience what is referred to as sundowning or sundowner syndrome. It means they may become confused or agitated in the evening hours around dusk. For your sake and theirs, it may be best to avoid scheduling your visit around this time.

    Recommended Reading: Does Meredith Have Alzheimer’s

    Should You Tell The Person They Have Alzheimer’s

    Families may frequently ask, Should I tell the person that he/she has Alzheimer’s? Keep in mind that the patient and/or loved one can’t reason. They don’t have enough memory to remember the question, then think it through to form a conclusion. Caregivers and/or family members may often think if they tell;the person with memory loss;that he/she has Alzheimer’s, then he/she will understand and cooperate. You cant get cooperation by explaining that he/she has the disease and expect him/her to remember and use that information.

    What To Say To Seniors With Alzheimers Or Dementia:

    How to talk to someone with dementia
    • Identify yourself. Approach the person from the front and say who you are. Keep good eye contact.
    • Use short, simple words and sentences. Lengthy requests or stories can be overwhelming.
    • Offer a guess. If the person uses the wrong word or cant find a word, try guessing the right one.
    • Avoid asking too many direct questions. People with dementia can become frustrated if they cant find;the answer. If you have to, ask questions one at a time, and phrase them in a way that allows for a yes or;no answer.
    • Try not to ask the person to make complicated decisions. Give them a choice. Too many options can;be confusing and frustrating.
    • Avoid criticizing or correcting. Dont say he or she is incorrect. Instead, try to find the meaning in what is;being said, and encourage him or her to communicate their thoughts.
    • Avoid arguing. If the person says something you dont agree with, let it be. Arguing usually only makes;things worseoften heightening the level of agitation for the person with dementia.

    Don’t Miss: Moving A Parent To Memory Care

    How To Talk To Someone With Dementia: 10 Expert Alzheimers Communication Strategies

    It can be painful to witness the deterioration of a loved one with;;or any other type of dementia.;Fortunately, there are many kinds of;Alzheimers communication strategiesthat can help you maintain and build your bond with a loved one.

    Alzheimers and other dementias are difficult disease journeys, but there is so much opportunity for connection and success together, says Brenda Gurung, a certified dementia practitioner for the Alzheimers Association and a senior national account manager at A Place for Mom. When you understand even a bit of whats happening in the brain and when you embrace some simple techniques youll have more delightful visits with your loved one, deeper connections, and a smoother journey.

    Learn more about how dementia affects communication skills,;how to talk to someone with dementia, and discover 10 effective;Alzheimers communication strategiesto help.

    How Do I Avoid Getting Lost

    You may not be able to find your way around as well as you used to, even in familiar places. Take steps to prepare, such as:

    • Ask someone to go with you when you go out. Take directions with you, even if youâre going somewhere youâve been before.
    • Ask for help if you need it. If you want to, you can explain that you have a memory problem.

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    Dont Expect Them To Conform To Present

    As strange as that may sound, learn how to enter into the patients/loved one’s world and not expect them to conform to our present day. As Diane Waugh, BSN, RN, CDP, says in the video above: When I had to deal with memory loss with my own mother, I found the hardest thing for me to do was to not try to drag her into my reality, but;to go live where she was living, in her understanding.

    Caregivers and/or family members should remember: give up expectations of the patient and/or loved one .;Giving up expectations can;make room for what the patient and/or loved one’s strengths are .

    Find The Right Time Of Day


    The first step to easier telecommunication with someone who has Alzheimers disease is to call at the right time of day. Thats when your loved one is rested and most alert.

    According to the Alzheimers Association, Alzheimers disease affects the sleep-wake cycle. Ive noticed this with my grandma, and I definitely noticed this when I worked at a memory care facility.

    Changes include:

    • daytime naps
    • drowsiness during the day

    Scientists dont know exactly why this occurs, but believe its due to Alzheimers-related changes in the brain.

    My grandma tends to get out of bed late in the day, around 11 a.m. or noon. She is most alert in the early afternoon, so this is when I call. Since she lives in assisted living, I also avoid calling at mealtimes or when there are group activities.

    Instead of trying to change your loved ones sleep cycle or schedule, recognize the impact of their disease and work with them.

    Know that finding the best time of day to call might take some trial and error, and it might change as their disease progresses. Talking to caregivers or keeping a calendar of symptoms can help you find the best time to call.

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    Tips For Positive Interactions With Alzheimer’s & Dementia Patients

    The key to more positive interactions with Alzheimer’s patients, according to Teepa Snow, OTR/L, FAOTA, founder of;Positive Approach to Care, is to understand a person’s abilities and limitations. Then you can adjust your words, actions, and expectations accordingly. Snow has worked as a registered occupational therapist for over 30 years and is a leading educator on dementia. She explains that everyone has to learn to be flexible when a person gets Alzheimer’s or dementia because the patient can’t be.

    Here are five tips for positively talking with Alzheimer’s and dementia patients.

    Help Make Communication Easier

    The first step is to understand that the disease causes changes in communication skills. The second step is to try some tips that may make communication easier:

    • Make eye contact and call the person by name.
    • Be aware of your tone, how loud your voice is, how you look at the person, and your body language.
    • Encourage a two-way conversation for as long as possible.
    • Use other methods besides speaking, such as gentle touching.
    • Try distracting the person if communication creates problems.

    To encourage the person to communicate with you:

    • Show a warm, loving, matter-of-fact manner.
    • Hold the persons hand while you talk.
    • Be open to the persons concerns, even if he or she is hard to understand.
    • Let him or her make some decisions and stay involved.
    • Be patient with angry outbursts. Remember, its the illness talking.

    To speak effectively with a person who has Alzheimers:

    • Offer simple, step-by-step instructions.
    • Repeat instructions and allow more time for a response. Try not to interrupt.
    • Dont talk about the person as if he or she isnt there.
    • Dont talk to the person using baby talk or a baby voice.

    Read Also: Does Medicare Cover Nursing Home Care For Dementia

    How To Talk To Someone With Alzheimers

    I dont think anyones ever won an argument with a person with Alzheimers, says Ruth Drew, who worked as a counselor in a hospitals geriatric psychiatric ward before becoming a director with the Alzheimers Association, where she oversees the 24-hour 1-800 help line. Drews grandfather was afflicted with the degenerative brain disease. He would often get up before 2 a.m., sure it was morning. No amount of showing him the clock or pointing to the darkness outside could persuade him otherwise. Everything you know about persuasion and logic you have to put on the shelf, she says.

    Be patient, calm and kind. You cannot predict how the plaques and tangles in an Alzheimers patients brain will change him or her: A taciturn mother becomes chatty, a father forgets his daughter, a prim grandmother takes up obscenities. Drews father, who has midstage Alzheimers, can entertain partygoers with jokes but cant remember how to get home. Some people die within a year of diagnosis, and others live with the disease for decades. Approach someone with Alzheimers from the front. If the person doesnt recognize you, say your name. Position yourself at eye level and connect with the person as he or she is, right now, before you. Treat them with the respect that a lifetime of experience on this earth deserves, Drew says.


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