Caring for someone with Alzheimer’s disease and related dementia poses many challenges, but verbal communication can be especially difficult. Try these suggestions to help ease frustration for everyone involved.
Alzheimer’s and other forms of dementia impact more than a person’s memory; they also affect an individual’s ability to converse with others. As the diseases progress, cognitive changes make it difficult for your loved one to choose proper words or expressions, causing confusion and agitation for you both. Alzheimer’s and dementia also erode a person’s capability to understand what others are communicating.
Before long, frustration causes communication to break down even further. We’ve compiled the following list of suggestions to help improve your conversations—and ultimately your relationship—with someone who has dementia.
1. Give it your full attention.
Whenever we’re talking to someone, all of us like knowing we have the other person’s undivided attention. Those with Alzheimer’s and related dementia are no exceptions, so stop multitasking—and concentrate on the conversation at hand. Making and holding eye contact assures your loved one that you’re fully engaged.
2. Eliminate surrounding distractions.
Now that he or she has your complete attention, you can concentrate on holding your loved one’s interest. Begin by finding a quiet, distraction-free spot to talk. Turn off nearby televisions and computers, and close internal doors to discourage interruptions. And saying the person’s name during your conversation helps you get—and keep—their attention.
3. Talk one-on-one.
Conversations are not easy for someone with dementia. Your loved one could struggle to organize words and thoughts, or have difficulty following your point. That’s why it’s best to communication one-on-one—without the added anxiety that even a small group of people can create.
4. Avoid open-ended questions.
Open-ended questions require people to consider various options and formulate a response—both of which are often confusing to those with Alzheimer’s and other forms of dementia. For example, the question, “What would you like to eat for lunch?” forces your loved one to weigh choices and express a decision. Instead, ask yes-or-no questions such as, “Would you like a grilled cheese sandwich for lunch?”
5. Keep discussions short and sweet.
It’s often easier for someone with dementia to follow conversations that are brief, simple, and to the point. For that reason, using short sentences and focusing discussions on a single subject helps minimize confusion and frustration.
6. Invest your time.
Conversing with someone who has dementia can be time consuming, so a common tendency is to try hurrying things along. Resist any inclination to speed up conversations, either by interrupting or completing your loved one’s sentences. Be patient, and remember that opportunities for conversations are fleeting.
7. Steer clear of arguments.
Struggling to communicate can leave people with Alzheimer’s and related dementia angry and combative. You might find yourself drawn into a quarrel, but remember: you cannot win an argument with a dementia patient. Resist the urge to argue your side, and simply redirect the conversation in a new direction.
8. Keep communicating.
If your loved one becomes nonverbal, there’s no rule that says you cannot do all the talking. People with Alzheimer’s and other dementias can still crave social contact. Continuing to speak to someone with advanced dementia is a wonderful way to demonstrate your ongoing love and support.