Alzheimer’s disease and other forms of dementia present many challenges, and communication is one of the greatest. By damaging pathways in the brain, Alzheimer’s disease slowly erodes verbal communication skills of individuals, which makes it difficult for them to find the right words and to understand what others are saying. At times, your loved one’s words and expressions might make little or no sense to you. As a result, misunderstandings can occur, which fray tempers and make communication even more difficult.
It is important for caregivers to remember that your loved one is not acting this way on purpose. It is part of the progressive disease process, so you should not take it personally. Through patience, understanding and a basic knowledge of recommended communication techniques, you can communicate more effectively with your loved one.
Typical Changes in Communication
According to the Alzheimer’s Association article, “Communication and Alzheimer’s” changes in the ability to communicate are unique to each person with the disease. In the early stages of dementia, the person’s communication may not seem very different or he/she might repeat stories or not be able to find a word. However, as the disease progresses, you may recognize other changes such as:
- Using familiar words repeatedly
- Inventing new words to describe familiar objects
- Easily losing his/her train of thought
- Having difficulty organizing words logically
- Speaking less often
- Reverting back to a native language
Tips for Improving Communication
According to the Mayo Clinic article, “Alzheimer’s: Tips for Effective Communication,” “When you try to communicate with a loved one living with Alzheimer’s disease, you may feel like you’ve dropped through the rabbit hole into Alice’s wonderland.”
Despite the challenges, you can communicate effectively with a loved one who has Alzheimer’s by considering the following tips:
- Speak clearly – Introduce yourself. Speak in a clear, straightforward manner.
- Show respect – Avoid secondary baby talk and diminutive phrases, such as “good girl.” Don’t assume that your loved one can’t understand you, and don’t talk about your loved one as if he or she weren’t there.
- Stay present – Maintain eye contact, and stay near your loved one so that he or she will know that you’re listening and trying to understand.
- Avoid distractions – Communication may be difficult – if not impossible – against a background of competing sights and sounds.
- Keep it simple – Use short sentences and plain words. As the disease progresses, yes-no questions may work best, and only one question at a time is best. Break down requests into single steps.
- Don’t interrupt – It may take longer than you expect for your loved one to process and respond. Avoid criticizing, hurrying and correcting.
- Use visual cues – Sometimes gestures or other visual cues promote better understanding than words alone. Rather than simply asking if your loved one needs to use the toilet, for example, take him or her to the toilet and point to it.
- Don’t argue – Your loved one’s reasoning and judgment will decline over time. To spare anger and agitation, don’t argue with your loved one.
- Stay calm – Even when you’re frustrated, keep your voice gentle. Your nonverbal cues, including the tone of your voice, can send a clearer message than what you actually say.
Communicating with your loved one may be challenging, especially as the disease progresses. While a person with later-stage Alzheimer’s may not always respond, he or she still requires and benefits from continued communication. Remember, when communicating with a person with dementia, it is especially important to treat the person with dignity, stay positive and choose your words carefully.
Help Is Available for Caregivers
Today, a variety of resources is available to assist caregivers who are caring for their loved ones at home. These include Alzheimer’s Association services, support groups, self-help guides, Respite Care services, in-home support, community-based services and educational programs. Progressive, residential Memory Care providers, such as North Woods Village at Edison Lakes, offer a variety of educational programs, support and special events designed to help family caregivers.
For caregivers who recognize that the needs of their loved one are beyond what they can safely and appropriately provide in the home environment, leading, residential Memory Care Assisted Living Communities (MCALs), such as North Woods Village at Edison Lakes and its “New Directions” SM program in Mishawaka, IN, provide the full continuum of services that have been shown to improve health and well-being, support brain health and delay the progression of memory loss from Alzheimer’s disease and dementia.
At North Woods Village at Edison Lakes, we believe senior adults thrive in an environment that offers an active, vibrant lifestyle with a variety of activities that engage the mind, body and spirit. Our “New Directions” SM provides a safe, professional environment and proven, best-practice programs and services specifically designed to address the total physical, emotional and social needs of individuals with Alzheimer’s, dementia or other serious form of memory impairment.
For more information and helpful resources, contact us today!