What’s the best way to communicate well with someone with Alzheimer’s?

Good communication can help many problematic situations and behaviors, and even sometimes negate them. The No. 1 tip you can learn on this topic is to treat a loved one with Alzheimer’s as an individual with a disease, not as a diseased individual. The person has an entire, personal, individualized history that will stay with him or her throughout life’s journey. Some characteristics will never leave; some will become more pronounced. A high-anxiety person could still be tightly wound, while a laid back person could become even more so.

Everyone needs to have his or her feelings validated, and individuals with Alzheimer’s are no different. In fact, they might need it even more, given their likely memory loss or possible insecurity issues. Here’s an example: You mother, who has Alzheimer’s is angry with your wife a lot of the time. They were on good terms in the past, but now she blames your wife for everything. You have to keep in mind that it is the dementia talking, not your mother. You can validate her feelings by saying, “I don’t blame you for being angry” and then move on. What she feels is real to her (even if it’s not true) and you should at least afford her some validation. Of course, you might have to coach your wife at this point, too. Reinforce that the comments and action aren’t necessarily against her at a personal level. It’s the nature of this devastating illness and, in the long run, is only a temporary condition.

People who have Alzheimer’s respond well to affirmation so be generous with the praise and comments such as “good job” or “way to go,” etc.

Here are some other tips to conducting good communication with your loved one (or anyone) who has Alzheimer’s:

  • Identify yourself when you begin a conversation. If he says he knows already, laugh and joke it off
  • Maintain eye contact when speaking
  • Slow down when you talk
  • Use short sentences
  • Smile and be pleasant
  • Be aware of her body language. A sudden change in position (i.e. sit-to-stand) could indicate the need to go to the restroom, or another form of discomforts
  • Be aware of YOUR body language. Try not to appear tense, upset or intimidating. Remember: The majority of communication is conveyed non-verbally
  • Don’t argue
  • Ask only one question at a time. Give enough time for responses. Yes/no questions are the best
  • Don’t talk about your loved one as if she or he weren’t there — you can never be sure of just how aware she or he might be. Also, don’t be condescending or order the person around
  • Try to avoid a high-pitched tone of voice. It could be interpreted as anger
  • When your loved one is upset and communication between you just isn’t working, try a hug. Soon, anger should be forgotten and you can try again
  • Use gentle touches to get your love one’s attention if necessary. You can try by putting your hand on his shoulder, knee or hand
  • Eliminate any noise that could be distracting, such as TV or radio. Go to another room to talk if it would be helpful.

 

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