Communicating with Alzheimer’s Patients

The declining ability to verbally communicate with others is a common trait of those dealing with Alzheimer's disease. While this can be heartbreaking and frustrating for a loved one, communication will become important in every interaction. Communicating with a person with Alzheimer's requires good listening skills, persistence, and calmness. Never stop communicating with an Alzheimer’s patient.

Changes in the ability to communicate are unique to each person with Alzheimer's disease.

Your loved one may experience a slow disintegration of verbal (or even nonverbal) communication skills due to Alzheimer’s disease. Their words or speech may not make sense to you. In turn, he or she might have trouble understanding what you are saying to them. In the early stages of the disease, the person's communication may not seem very different at all. It is very common that he or she might repeat stories or not be able to find the right word. Challenges and difficulties will be different from person to person. As the disease progresses over time, you may recognize other changes such as:

  • Using familiar words repeatedly;
  • Inventing new words to describe familiar objects;
  • Losing his or her train of thought;
  • Reverting back to a native language;
  • Having difficulty organizing words logically;
  • Speaking less often

Even though a person that is in the later stages Alzheimer's may not always have a response, he or she still needs and gains from both verbal and nonverbal communication with others. When communicating with a person with Alzheimer’s disease, it's especially important to choose your words carefully. The most important idea is to never stop communicating. The following tips will help when speaking and interacting with a person with Alzheimer’s:

  • Say who you are. Approach the person from the front and identify who you are. If the person is seated or in a lower position, go down to their eye level.
  • Use their name. It helps acclimate the person and also grabs their attention.
  • Use concise words and/or phrases. Lengthy stories or statements can be too much for the patient to understand. Ask one question at a time.
  • Speak slowly and distinctly. Be aware of how fast and how clear you are talking. Use a calm and relaxed voice with a soothing lower pitch.
  • Maintain eye contact. It is also important to make and maintain eye contact when talking with anyone who has Alzheimer’s disease. It shows that you are paying attention and makes it easier for him to understand what you are saying, or at least what you are meaning.
  • Wait patiently. The person may need extra time to process what you said. It’s important to have a patient demeanor while waiting for them to respond.
  • Repeat statements or questions as needed. If the person you are communicating with doesn't have a response, wait for several seconds before asking again.
  • Make visual or nonverbal gestures. To help demonstrate what you might be asking, point or touch the item you want the individual to use or process.
  • Write items down. Try using written Post-It notes as reminders if the person is able to read and comprehend them.
  • Treat the person with dignity and respect. This should be common sense, but it’s easy to get frustrated with a loved one when you think they don’t understand you. Avoid disrespecting the person or speaking as if they aren’t there. Be aware of your attitude that you may be communicating through your tone of voice. Use uplifting and friendly facial expressions as well as nonverbal communication.

If you or a loved one are dealing with the effects of Alzheimer’s and need a trusted advisor for elderly law, trust Lamson & Cutner, P.C. to help guide the transition.

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