A Short Guide to Communicating with a Person with Alzheimer’s or Dementia

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As a family member or caregiver of someone with Alzheimer’s or dementia, one of the hardest things to accept and face is the fact that your loved one’s personality will change over time along with their speaking habits. As the disease progresses, your loved one may no longer be the chatty storyteller who could hypnotize a room. In fact, they may grow agitated when they can’t think of the word “spatula.”

In order to support your loved one, you must change your expectations for how they will speak and, more importantly, how you will respond. It can help to remember that communicatio

n isn’t just about words. Sometimes a gesture, a smile, or a hug can speak volumes.

What Communication Changes to Expect with Alzheimer’s and Dementia

How will your loved one’s vocabulary, speaking patterns, and overall communication change as a result of Alzheimer’s and dementia? Every person’s experience is different, and in the earlier stages of the disease, you may not notice much of a difference. In the beginning, your loved one may not use as many five-dollar words, may speak in less complex sentences, and may occasionally forget simple words. As the disease progresses, however, you will notice a distinct change in their speech. Alzheimer’s and dementia in many ways cause the brain to regress, so it might be easier to think about it as if your loved one were going back in time and struggling with the same issues that you may recognize in your own young children or grandchildren. Things like:

  • Using simple words
  • Repeating familiar words
  • Inventing words
  • Struggling to organize words into sentences or clear thoughts
  • Losing her train of thought

These changes may feel frustrating to both you and your loved one, so you may also notice that they don’t speak as often. As a caregiver, friend, or family member, don’t let your loved one be silenced by dementia or Alzheimer’s!

How to Communicate Effectively with Someone with Alzheimer’s

Once again, it’s important to recognize that everyone’s Alzheimer’s and dementia journey is different. The more time you spend with your loved one, the more you’ll learn what communication strategies work best with them. Here are some simple suggestions to help make your communication go more smoothly in the later stages of dementia:

  • Be patient – This is the number one piece of advice that we can give. Your loved one may struggle to find the right words, have trouble making sense, and become frustrated. Try to listen carefully and don’t rush them.
  • Don’t criticize or correct – It will probably be tempting for you to try to finish your loved one’s sentences, especially if they are struggling to find a word or to correct your loved one if they use the wrong word. Criticizing and correcting someone with dementia isn’t helpful and may only make your loved one feel more isolated.
  • Don’t argue – In the later stages of dementia, your loved one may become paranoid, angry, or critical without warning. It doesn’t help anything for you to argue with them. Again, show patience, listen, and save your breath on arguing.
  • Use simple sentences – Just as your loved one may have trouble speaking in more complex sentences, they may also struggle with understanding more complex thoughts. Use simple sentences and simple words to get your point across. This doesn’t mean speaking down to your loved one; just appreciating the fact that they vocabulary and understanding may be reduced.
  • Speak slowly and repeat – It takes a person with dementia a longer time to process words and sentences. Help your loved one by speaking slowly and repeating yourself if necessary. Try to repeat the sentence exactly, using the same words.
  • Speak positively – Your goal when spending time with your loved one is to make the experience positive and comfortable for you both. There’s no need to say, “don’t do that,” or “don’t go there.” Instead, focus on positive statements, such as “let’s do this instead,” or “please come here.”
  • Use visual cues – If your loved one is having trouble understanding you, try using visual cues such as pointing at an object, miming a motion, or demonstrating a task.

Some of these tips may work better than others, so give them a try and keep using the ones that help you communicate better. By making an effort to communicate more with your loved one, you will help them keep their voice and feel more confident in their world.

We’d love to hear your stories and your personal communication strategies for your loved ones with Alzheimer’s or dementia. Consider joining us for our free monthly Support Group for Caregivers & Families.



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4 replies

  1. Great article! Thanks for posting.

  2. Thanks for such important views.

  3. Really good thoughts. It’s so difficult to see and especially feel your loved one drift away. But my experience was that toward the end of his life, I was his world; he got tears in his eyes when I went to visit, he gestured to a photo on the wall and told everyone I was beautiful, he tried to smile when he saw me. I was probably the last thought or feeling as he passed which gives me peace. He died happy, the demons were gone, not a wrinkle on his face. Total peace.

  4. Lovely article. Will follow the advice given in this article as I care for a loved one who is dealing with dementia.

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