Alzheimer’s and Dementia: Tips for Better Communication

November 15, 2019 | BY PHS Staff

If you have a loved one suffering from Alzheimer’s disease, you know how difficult it is to communicate. Just be aware that, as frustrating as it is for you to struggle with communication, they’re feeling even more helpless and upset. In order to successfully communicate with your aging parent, spouse, or sibling, it’s helpful to know some crucial communication tips as an adjunct to companion care in order to make visits more productive and enjoyable.

Alzheimer’s disease gradually wears away at a person’s ability to communicate, according to the Alzheimer’s Association. It takes a lot of patience, understanding and strong listening skills. Plus, setting your loved one up with the proper dementia care is vital. Let’s outline some of the communication issues that come with each stage of the disease.

Early Stages

Referred to as mild Alzheimer’s, the person with dementia can still participate in meaningful conversation and take part in many of the same social activities they did before. However, you may hear them repeat stories, or they may get easily overwhelmed by too much stimulation, or they may have trouble finding the right words to explain what they mean. Try these tips:

  • Remain honest and supportive throughout; don’t pull away from friendship because you’re scared.
  • Include the person with Alzheimer’s in conversations.
  • Truly listen to the person as he or she expresses thoughts, feelings and needs.
  • Ask what the person may need help with; what they are the most comfortable with.
  • Discuss which method of communication is best, i.e., face-to-face, email, text or phone calls.
  • Know that it’s OK to laugh, as humor lightens the mood and makes it easier to communicate.
  • Speak directly to them rather than to the caregiver.
  • Give the person sufficient time to respond. Refrain from interrupting unless they request help.

Middle Stages

Referred to as moderate Alzheimer’s, this stage is often the longest, and may last for many years. As the disease moves along, your loved one will have more and more difficulty in communicating; thus, they may require more direct care.

  • Keep eye contact.
  • Engage in one-on-one conversations in a quiet place with minimal distractions.
  • Speak clearly and slowly.
  • Give them plenty of time to respond.
  • Provide visual cues by demonstrating a task to ensure participation.
  • Be patient, offering reassurance to encourage them to explain thoughts.
  • Ask one question at a time rather than a string of questions.
  • Ask yes or no questions. For example, “Would you like some coffee or tea?” instead of “What are you in the mood to drink?”
  • Don’t argue. If you don’t agree with what is said, just let it be.
  • Offer step-by-step instructions for completion of tasks, advises the Mayo Clinic.
  • Write notes when spoken words are causing confusion.
  • Avoid criticism or correction. Repeat what they say so as to clarify it.

Late Stages

Referred to as severe Alzheimer’s, this stage can last anywhere from several weeks to several years. As the disease gets worse, your loved one will rely more and more on nonverbal communication, such as facial expressions or sounds.

  • Just be there. It’s all right if you don’t always know what to say. Just sit and be with them. This means the most.
  • Approach them from the front, identifying yourself right away. You may find you have to re-introduce yourself every time, even if you are their child, spouse or sibling.
  • Use smells, tastes, touch and sights to communicate when possible.
  • Consider the feelings conveyed behind any words or sounds. Sometimes expressed emotions are more critical than what is being said.
  • Encourage non-verbal communication. For instance, ask them to point or gesture if you are having trouble understanding what they mean.
  • Treat them with dignity and respect. Don’t talk down to them like they are a child.

Contact Preferred HealthStaff

For more tips on how to more effectively communicate with your loved one with dementia in Gettysburg PA, please contact us at 866-943-9791.