How To Talk To Someone With Alzheimers: 4 Real
Each person with Alzheimers or dementia is different and will have a different level of cognitive impairment.
Use these 4 examples as a starting point and experiment to find what works best for both your older adult and you.
Example 1: Its time for your older adult to use the restroomDO say: Its time to go to the bathroom now.
DONT say: Its been about an hour since you last visited the bathroom so why dont we go to the bathroom and you can give it a try. Ok? How does that sound? Do you want to go to the bathroom now?
Example 2: Its time for your older adult to have lunchDO say: Mmmmm, its time to eat spaghetti!Lets go to the kitchen.
DONT say: Are you hungry? Its lunch time and I thought youd enjoy one of your favorites spaghetti. Lets go to the kitchen so you can eat. After lunch, well go outside for a walk so you can get some fresh air. How does that sound?
Example 3: Youre taking your older adult to a doctor appointmentDO say: Its time to go outHeres your jacketLets get into the car.
DONT say: Were going to see Dr. Lee today. Shes going to check to see how youre doing with those new medications. Remember how we had to reschedule the appointment from last month? Im glad she had an opening this soon. You know what? Its a little chilly today, why dont you put on your jacket while I get the keys and then well go out to the car together.
Helping A Person Who Is Aware Of Memory Loss
Alzheimers disease is being diagnosed at earlier stages. This means that many people are aware of how the disease is affecting their memory. Here are tips on how to help someone who knows that he or she has memory problems:
- Take time to listen. The person may want to talk about the changes he or she is noticing.
- Be as sensitive as you can. Don’t just correct the person every time he or she forgets something or says something odd. Try to understand that it’s a struggle for the person to communicate.
- Be patient when someone with Alzheimer’s disease has trouble finding the right words or putting feelings into words.
- Help the person find words to express thoughts and feelings. But be careful not to put words in the persons mouth or fill in the blanks too quickly. For example, Mrs. D cried after forgetting her garden club meeting. She finally said, “I wish they stopped.” Her daughter said, “You wish your friends had stopped by for you.” Mrs. D nodded and repeated some of the words. Then Mrs. D said, “I want to go.” Her daughter said, “You want to go to the garden club meeting.” Again, Mrs. D nodded and repeated the words.
- Be aware of nonverbal communication. As people lose the ability to talk clearly, they may rely on other ways to communicate their thoughts and feelings. For example, their facial expressions may show sadness, anger, or frustration. Grasping at their undergarments may tell you they need to use the bathroom.
Keep The Conversation Simple
Before telling your loved one with Alzheimers a story, just consider how confusing the story may sound. It is therefore very important to always speak slowly and in short sentences. Limit the conversation to precise and direct sentences.
If you want to show someone with Alzheimers something, be specific. For example, say, Here is your jacket, instead of saying, Here it is. Avoid using vague and confusing statements. Also avoid using phrases like, Try to remember, or I just told you, because these types of phrases will make your loved one feel bad about his/her inability to remember cert
ain things, places or people. The conversation and comments should be kept simple, short and straight to the point.
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An Innovative Approach To Adult Care
Oakwood Creative Care began as Sirrine Adult Day Health Services in 1975. The founders dreamed of a nonprofit that would provide an innovative solution to helping older adults remain in their homes for as long as possible, while staying connected to the community as their health care needs were being met.
Sirrine was licensed by the Arizona Department of Health Services in 1987, and developed a strong partnership with the community. The City of Mesa and a collective group of women volunteered to create fundraising events and support for the organization.
In 2013, Sirrine leadership changed and with it came a rebrand and revitalization. The organizations name changed to Oakwood Creative Care. The Board of Directors and staff leadership felt it was important to remain close to our deep roots in the community however, they also wanted to offer a more innovative approach to the services being offered.
Oakwood Creative Cares rich history and ability to adapt to the needs of our members is a testament to the community that supports this amazing organization.
Communicate And Express Ideas Clearly
There are certain techniques a person can try. These include:
- speaking in short, simple sentences
- using basic, commonly used words
- speaking slowly and clearly
- using a calm and friendly voice
- avoiding speaking in a raised voice or using a sharp tone
- introducing oneself by using ones names or others names instead of referencing their relationship
- talking with them as adults and not as one would with a child
- being patient and treating them with respect
- including them in conversations
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Tip #: Approach From The Front
Get in the habit of always approaching your loved one from the front. Dont sneak up from behind or try surprise someone who is living with dementia. Youll probably only startle or scare them.
Let them see you coming. Sometimes that means taking the long way around. If you cant approach straight on, at least try to ease in from the side.
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.
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Those Are Good Starting Points Then What
One thing is certainvisits will go better if you are prepared with a plan. Be prepared by visiting at a good time of day for your loved one, and keep your stay short. Go with some ideas for conversation, but be prepared to follow their lead if they are especially talkative that day. Have a plan for an activity. Here are some specific ideas to help a visit go well:
Laughter Can Be A Blessing
Most people find laughter to be therapeutic. It has, however, been proved to be useful to those suffering from memory loss. According to one research, cracking jokes to a loved one works in the same manner as taking medicine to reduce stress does. Laughter may also help you let go of the stress of being a caregiver for a loved one.
When possible, use humor, but not at the cost of the other person. People with dementia usually retain their social abilities and are delighted to laugh with you.
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Should You Keep Trying To Communicate
Family members may frequently ask, How often should I visit?, or, Should I visit at all, because they dont seem to be understanding what were saying, most of the time they dont seem to recognize me, etc. Caregivers can encourage family members to visit because its important to them. Also, the person with memory loss may catch some things on some days, and if family members can make the interaction a pleasant moment, it can be rewarding for both.
Communication amongst family becomes particularly difficult when the person with dementia and/or Alzheimers doesn’t recognize family members anymore. In this situation, a spouse or children can think that it doesnt do any good to go talk to the personthat anyone could talk to him/her because they dont remember who they are. But there is a richness that happens because of family history together, something that can only come from people that have been family or friends for a long time.
The type of communication families can get out of visits can be pulled from the strength of the patient and/or loved ones long-term memories. They can still talk about the past, and for family members, to hear those things are perhaps a worthwhile gift.
Even though the patient and/or loved one can no longer communicate the way they used to, there are still other ways to enjoy time together. There is beauty and simplicity in being in the present moment.
The Video Chat Learning Curve
Due to the pandemic, its Facetime with my grandma for the foreseeable future. In the beginning, it was rough.
Wed run out of things to say and there were awkward silences. Id ask her questions about her day that she couldnt answer because she didnt remember. Shed get confused by the paintings behind me. Sometimes Id call and she was still asleep.
Im an occupational therapist myself and worked in a memory care facility. Despite my professional experience, I learned that virtual communication adds a whole new layer of difficulty.
Over the past 7 months, Ive adjusted my communication techniques to have more comfortable, effective, and enjoyable conversations for both of us.
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Why Do Short Sentences Work Better In Dementia
That can make it very difficult for someone with dementia to listen, understand, and respond appropriately to normal conversation.
Thats why using short, direct sentences with only one thought per sentence is recommended.
It makes it easier for someone with dementia to understand what youre saying. Thoughts that are long or complex can be overwhelming because its too much to process.
This technique might feel strange at first because were used to using friendly conversation to fill the silence, let someone know whats happening, or to show that we care.
But combining fewer words with a warm and positive tone will be less frustrating for seniors with dementia and is just as kind.
How To Communicate With Someone In The Late Stages Of Alzheimers Disease
In the late or severe stages of Alzheimers disease, the patients ability to communicate verbally falls dramatically. They depend on nonverbal communication, such as facial expressions and gestures. They also need to have round-the-clock care. Here are tips for effective communication at this point:
- Approach the patient from the front and ensure to identify yourself.
- Please encourage the patient to communicate whichever they can. If you cant express what they need, ask them to gesture or point.
- Consider how you communicate and the feelings behind what you say. Emotional expressions can, sometimes, be more meaningful than spoken words.
- Avoid ignoring them. Acknowledge their presence at all times to let them know youre aware theyre with you and you care.
- Sometimes, you dont need to say anything to them. Your presence is more than enough.
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How To Effectively Communicate:
- Treat them with respect and dignity. Do not talk down to them as if they do not exist.
- Use sight, touch, taste, and smell as the primary source of communication.
- Just be there for them. They may no longer be able to recognize you, but your presence will be comforting to them.
Caring for someone with Alzheimers is undoubtedly challenging. However, it is important to note that their cognitive functions are impaired. This means that what makes sense to you doesnt necessarily mean the same to them. Going out of your way and applying these tips will make the time spent with the patient less tasking and more enjoyable.
Encouraging Someone With Dementia To Communicate
Try to start conversations with the person you’re looking after, especially if you notice that they’re starting fewer conversations themselves. It can help to:
- speak clearly and slowly, using short sentences
- make eye contact with the person when they’re talking or asking questions
- give them time to respond, because they may feel pressured if you try to speed up their answers
- encourage them to join in conversations with others, where possible
- let them speak for themselves during discussions about their welfare or health issues
- try not to patronise them, or ridicule what they say
- acknowledge what they have said, even if they do not answer your question, or what they say seems out of context show that you’ve heard them and encourage them to say more about their answer
- give them simple choices avoid creating complicated choices or options for them
- use other ways to communicate such as rephrasing questions because they cannot answer in the way they used to
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Do’s And Don’ts For Communicating With Someone Who Has Dementia
Caring for someone with dementia isnt something that any of us expects to do when we are young. Yet, for the adult sons and daughters of more than five million American seniors*, that is their reality. And whether youre caring for your loved one every dayor just occasionally, knowing how to talk to a parent with dementia will help keep the connection you share as strong as possible for as long as possible.
Navigating successful conversations with dementia patients takes trial and error, respect, and practice. It also helps to understand the dos and donts of asking and answering questions. Oh, and did I say patience? Youll need a lot of that.
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.
Emotions And Touch Awareness
How does the person look? What emotions are they showing? Being sensitive to the persons mood can offer an opportunity to begin a conversation . Does the person respond to touch in a positive way? A light touch on the back of the hand can often feel reassuring and non-threatening. If the person moves their hand away from you, take your cue from them and be careful how you use touch. If the person takes the opportunity to clasp your hand this may be an indication that they need more physical reassurance and support. With people who are quite withdrawn, a gentle touch on the cheek can be a way of getting them to look at you. Again be sensitive to their reaction to the touch and take your lead from them.
Tips For Communicating With A Person Who Has Alzheimers Disease
Kathleen Allen, LCSW, C-ASWCM
Senior Care Management Services, LLC
- Expert Advice
Learn helpful communication tips for visiting someone with dementia, or communicating with them by phone or video chat.
Have you ever tried to communicate with someone with Alzheimers disease and ended feeling awkward and frustrated? Did you get stuck without having anything to talk about? Was this a once conversant and articulate person you now have difficulty engaging?
Communicating with someone who has Alzheimers disease, though challenging, is achievable. But because the disease affects the brain in ways that make communication difficult, we need to keep in mind some guidelines to facilitate the best possible communication. Below I will address communication when you are visiting someone with dementia, and then I will address non-visit communication, such as by phone or video chat.
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Tips For Listening To A Person With Dementia
- Listen carefully to what the person is saying. Offer encouragement both verbally and non-verbally, for example by making eye contact and nodding. This active listening can help improve communication.
- The persons body language can show a lot about their emotions. The expression on their face and the way they hold themselves can give you clear signals about how they are feeling when they communicate.
- If you havent fully understood what the person has said, ask them to repeat it. If you are still unclear, rephrase their answer to check your understanding of what they meant.
- If the person with dementia has difficulty finding the right word or finishing a sentence, ask them to explain it in a different way. Listen and look out for clues. If they cannot find the word for a particular object, ask them to describe it instead.
Conversation: Keep It Simple
Speaking in short sentences will keep conversations simple and more easily followed. Ask yes/no questions vs. open-ended ones. Take a breath before speaking. Smile. Make eye contact.
Learning to Speak Alzheimers: A Groundbreaking Approach for Everyone Dealing with the Disease by Joanne Koenig Coste is a timeless resource for communicating with someone diagnosed with Alzheimers Disease.
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