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Talking To Someone With Alzheimer’s

Dont Argue Even When Theyre Wrong


If someone is telling a story all wrong, dont contradict them, says Drew. Dont try to pull them into your reality. Just let them have their way. I’d say thats true 99 percent of time.

The exception is when a person makes assertions that raise a safety issue or cause them great distress. If someone is saying There are people who are trying to hurt me and steal from me, and you know that this is not true, then I wouldnt validate this. You would want to say things that are comforting and help the person feel safe.

Drew also points to strategies that can reduce arguments that arise during moments of tension in daily life. For instance, if you know that your mother is never going to be happy about going to the doctor, theres probably some other way to help her get ready and be happy about getting ready, Drew says. I know one family that always goes to get ice cream before they go to the doctor. So leaving the house is about going to get ice cream and, oh, then they go to the doctor when theyre already out, already dressed, and already in the car.

Speak Naturally And Use Gestures

Its important to speak clearly, simply, and in complete sentences, while using a calm and friendly voice to talk to someone with dementia.

Besides using your voice, try to communicate using your body, incorporating subtle movements. Demonstrate your meaning with visual cues or gestures. For example, if you say, Lets go for a walk, use an arm motion with your invitation.

Use Your Name And Others Names

Identifying yourself and others by name rather than by relationship is helpful, Gurung says. People with dementia may be more present in an earlier time in their life. This could be before you were their child or partner.

Rather than trying to reorient to today, it can be better to say, Hi, its me, Brenda, instead of, Hi Mom. Its Brenda, your daughter. Even with family members, you may find it more useful to call them by their preferred name rather than their title.

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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.

Be Open To A Range Of Possibilities

Talking To Someone With Alzheimer

We often go into situations with set ideas of what we want to speak about or what we expect to hear and we try to switch the conversation quickly to the topic we have in mind. At the beginning of a communication, take your lead from the person with dementia. Dont try to switch topics too soon. In allowing the conversation to develop, give the person time to say what is on their mind. When the person says x they mean y .

Be aware that as word finding becomes more difficult for the person with dementia the content of speech becomes more limited. So, for example, a female name such as Julie may come to represent every female helper rather than referring to Julie in person. A reference to needing my mum may mean that the person is feeling scared and unattached rather than a literal question needing a literal answer about the whereabouts of the persons mother.

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Make Time For Reflection

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.

Be Patient And Avoid Jumping In

Its best to give your loved one extra time to process what you say. If you ask a question, patiently wait for their response and avoid rushing an answer. Get comfortable with silence while your loved one is thinking.

When your loved one is struggling for a word, it can be tempting to jump in. But rather than helping, you may unintentionally derail their thought process, Gurung says.

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The Alzheimers And Dementia Care Journey

Caring for someone with Alzheimers disease or another type of dementia can be a long, stressful, and intensely emotional journey. But youre not alone. In the United States, there are more than 16 million people caring for someone with dementia, and many millions more around the world. As there is currently no cure for Alzheimers or dementia, it is often your caregiving and support that makes the biggest difference to your loved ones quality of life. That is a remarkable gift.

However, caregiving can also become all-consuming. As your loved ones cognitive, physical, and functional abilities gradually diminish over time, its easy to become overwhelmed, disheartened, and neglect your own health and well-being. The burden of caregiving can put you at increased risk for significant health problems and many dementia caregivers experience depression, high levels of stress, or even burnout. And nearly all Alzheimers or dementia caregivers at some time experience sadness, anxiety, loneliness, and exhaustion. Seeking help and support along the way is not a luxury its a necessity.

Just as each individual with Alzheimers disease or dementia progresses differently, so too can the caregiving experience vary widely from person to person. However, there are strategies that can aid you as a caregiver and help make your caregiving journey as rewarding as it is challenging.

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Keeping The Conversation Going

How to have a good conversation with someone with dementia

Dr Jennifer Bute, who has dementia, talks about the importance of patterns in speech and conversations. She says: If one can catch a flavour or hint of what the person is talking about, and can latch on to that, often the person can pick up on the pattern .

Dr Bute who was a GP before she was diagnosed with early onset Alzheimers disease and whose father had dementia talks about speech and questions in an educational video on her website.

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Whats The Best Way To Talk To Someone With Alzheimers

During a routine trip to my local grocery, I ran into an acquaintance I had not seen in more than a year. She looked great and was her typically upbeat, energetic self. We exchanged hellos. I was not prepared for what came next.

I was recently diagnosed with early-stage Alzheimers, she said.

This warm, accomplished, Berkeley-educated woman, a mother and grandmother who was my go-to person for local political goings-on, great books and recipes, then said, without skipping a beat, I am doing okay right now, and I have signed up for a clinical trial.

The support her husband provides is clearly key. When I comment on how great she looks so put-together she laughs. Not long ago, her husband went with her to Neiman Marcus to see her favorite makeup artist. He told the artist that his wife has Alzheimers and asked that she make over his wife while he paid close attention. I watched. I took notes and typed them up, he said. And now I do her makeup. Its good I have time.

But for my friend, as with all Alzheimers patients, the disease inevitably does change relationships as memory, language and the ability to manage independently fail. Figuring out how to interact can be challenging at that point, Drew and other experts say.

Go where the person takes you, Marano said. If you are worried they wont remember you, just say, Hi its Susan. How are you?

Wonderlin says friends and relatives of Alzheimers patients can be put into three categories:

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.

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Smile And Make Eye Contact

Smiling is a universal symbol that transcends all languages and cultures. It will also help to put someone with dementia at ease when you are communicating with them non-verbally. The Alzheimers Society reminds us that the person with dementia will read and interpret your body language. Sudden movements, the tone of your voice or a tense facial expression can upset or distress them, even if the words you say are not upsetting. Consequently, smiling and making sure that you are always conveying a pleasant facial expression will put the person at ease and ensure that they get as much reassurance from you being there as possible.

Eye contact is also respectful and a way of showing the person that you value what theyre saying and that youre listening, as well as being vital for making a connection in non-verbal communication.

Page reviewed by Carole Kerton-Church, Regional Clinical Lead on November 23, 2021

Be Direct Specific And Positive

Properly Talking to Residents With Dementia or Alzheimer

Here are some examples of what you can say:

  • Lets try this way, instead of pointing out mistakes.
  • Please do this, instead of Dont do this.
  • Thanks for helping, even if the results arent perfect.

You also can:

  • Ask questions that require a yes or no answer. For example, you could say, Are you tired? instead of How do you feel?
  • Limit the number of choices. For example, you could say, Would you like a hamburger or chicken for dinner? instead of What would you like for dinner?
  • Use different words if he or she doesn’t understand the first time. For example, if you ask the person whether he or she is hungry and you dont get a response, you could say, Dinner is ready now. Lets eat.
  • Try not to say, Dont you remember? or I told you.

If you become frustrated, take a timeout for yourself.

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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.

How To Talk To A Person With Alzheimers: The Fine Art Of Redirection

Caring for Caregivers| Author: Mary Webb Walker

My mom, recently diagnosed with early stage Alzheimers disease, had no idea her repetitive questions were tormenting me. I was patient the first 15 times, but answered badly to the 16th. Mom, youve already asked me over and over if weve ordered yet!

Repetition whether its questions, stories or actions is one of the early symptoms of Alzheimers. And, it can be maddening for the care partner, family members and friends. Getting through the repetition stage, which thankfully wanes later in the disease, requires more than just patience. Youll need an effective strategy to communicate with your loved one with built-in techniques to preserve your sanity.

The first step to spending time with a memory-challenged person is to be prepared to leave your own world behind. Youre on Planet Alzheimers now and things are different here. For me, one successful approach is what I call the Fine Art of Redirection. By actively changing the focus of the memory-challenged person, we can break the repetitive loop. Doing it creatively and compassionately sends the signal that you will not judge, scold, criticize, or laugh at them.

What if you notice repetitious or uncharacteristic behavior in someone who has not been diagnosed with any form of dementia? Check out this article from Better Health While Aging for guidance.

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A Quick Note Before You Go

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An absorbent incontinence product that looks like real underwear. These pull-ups are easy to slide up the legs and are made of a breathable, soft fabric.

Whats more, the Peach Mat Core keeps skin dry, prevents bacteria growth, and stops odors.

Multi-fold hand towels made from sustainable ingredients.

Laughter Can Be A Blessing

Communicating with people with dementia

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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Do Not Talk Down To A Loved One

Your family member is not a child. While they may be struggling with an Alzheimers or dementia diagnosis, do not talk down to them. This may cause your loved one to become irritated, sad or unengaged. And, dont use baby talk when addressing your loved one with dementia: you are engaging with a respected older adult.

Things To Say To Someone With Alzheimers

Seeing someone you care about experience Alzheimers or another type of dementia is painstakingly difficult. Knowing what to say to someone whos lost his or her memory can also be hard. However, how you approach conversations can have a significant impact on your loved one.

The most important tip for communication with someone living with Alzheimers is to meet them where they are, said Ruth Drew, director of Information and Support Services at the Alzheimers Association. In the early stage of the disease, a person is still able to have meaningful conversations, but may repeat stories, feel overwhelmed by excessive stimulation, or have difficulty finding the right word. Be patient and understand that their brain is not working in the way it once did.

As the disease progresses, communicating with that person may become even more challenging. However, if you recognize the changes and challenges that come with dementia, you will more easily be able to alter your conversations with that person to meet his or her needs.

This may require slowing down and making eye contact with the person as you speak, says Drew. Use short, simple sentences, ask one question at a time, and give the person time to process and respond before continuing the conversation. If you are kind, gentle and relaxed, everything will work better.

Read on for six helpful things to say to those with Alzheimers, and three topics and phrases experts recommend avoiding.

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