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Better Communication with Your Loved One with Alzheimer’s

Alzheimer’s disease and other forms of dementia present many challenges to both individuals with the disorder and their caregivers. One of the greatest challenges is communication, especially with the passage of time and the natural progression of the disease.

Alzheimer’s disease damages the normal pathways in the brain, which slowly erodes individuals’ ability to communicate verbally. As a result, it becomes increasingly difficult for them to find the right words and to understand what others are saying.

Crystal Yost, Program Director at Impressions Memory Care at Bryn Mawr, says, “There will be times when your loved one’s words make little or no sense to you. This can be very frustrating and stressful for both of you, and you may find yourself becoming short-tempered and even angry.”

“However, as a responsible caregiver, it is always very important to keep in mind that your loved one is in no way responsible for their declining abilities and their sometimes frustrating behaviors. It is simply not their fault, so never take it personally. Instead, be mindful of the effects of the disorder and try to remain positive in your interactions with your loved one.”

“By practicing patience, empathy and good listening skills as well as engaging your loved one in helpful ways, you can create a more tranquil environment for both of you. Additionally, by understanding the recommended communication techniques of experts in the field, you can communicate more effectively with your loved one.”

Understanding How Communication Abilities Change

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 they might repeat stories or not be able to find a word. However, as the disease progresses, you may recognize other changes as well. These include:

  • Using familiar words repeatedly
  • Inventing new words to describe familiar objects
  • Easily losing their train of thought
  • Speaking less often
  • Having difficulty organizing words logically
  • Reverting back to a native language

Tips for Communicating More Effectively with Your loved One with Memory Loss

In the Mayo Clinic article, “Alzheimer's: Tips for Effective Communication,” their experts state, “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.”

Fortunately, there are proven communication techniques that can help. Despite all the challenges, you can communicate more effectively with a loved one who has Alzheimer's by using 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, and only one question at a time work 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.

As your loved one’s abilities decline as the disease progresses, your communication with them will typically become more challenging. However, it is important to remember that, although persons with later-stage Alzheimer's may not always respond, they still need – and also benefit from – continued communication. Therefore, when communicating with your loved one, always treat them with dignity, remain positive and be careful with what you say.

We Would Love to Hear from You!

If you have comments or questions on our blog, we’d love to hear from you. We also encourage you to share any of your caregiving experiences. Please share your stories in the comments section.

Engaging Days. Meaningful Moments.

Loved ones with Alzheimer’s disease or other memory impairments require specialized care and support. They also deserve a lifestyle rich in dignity and fulfillment. Our brand-new Impressions Memory Care at Bryn Mawr community provides residents with Engaging Days and Meaningful Moments that emphasize individual abilities, encourage socialization and promote the highest level of independence possible. We offer a complete continuum of leading-edge programs, services and amenities that address the total physical, emotional and social needs of residents in a caring setting that offers individual suites with large private baths and the comforts of home. Our community touches hearts and changes lives.

Helping Families Be “Family,” Again

Memory loss caused by Alzheimer’s disease, dementia or another form of memory impairment doesn’t only affect the person who has it – it affects the entire family.

If you have a loved one with early- to mid-stage memory loss, you know how challenging it can be to provide the care that’s needed while trying to maintain balance in your life. As care needs increase, you may not be able to meet them physically or emotionally. It’s often difficult to be available to care for your loved one’s health and well-being around the clock.

If, and when, the time comes to seek additional help, place your trust in Impressions Memory Care at Bryn Mawr. We lift the stresses and worries of being a caregiver from your shoulders, enabling you and your family to enjoy time with your loved one again. For more information, please call Terry at (484) 832-7614, or contact us online.

Disclaimer: The articles and tip sheets on this website are offered by Saunders House/Bryn Mawr Terrace and Main Line Senior Care Alliance for general informational and educational purposes and do not constitute legal or medical advice. For legal or medical advice, please contact your attorney or physician.