How to communicate with a loved one with Alzheimer’s disease

June is Alzheimer’s & Brain Awareness Month. It is a time to reflect on the most common form of dementia and the estimated 5 million Americans it impacts. Alzheimer’s disease is an irreversible, progressive type of dementia that slowly destroys memory and thinking skills and, eventually, the ability to carry out even the simplest tasks. It alters and degenerates brain tissue, resulting in changes in personality, behavior and communication skills. There is no definitive cause for Alzheimer’s disease, but age is one of the best known risk factors for the condition. In Alabama alone, there were an estimated 92,000 people age 65 and older with Alzheimer’s, according to a 2018 report by the Alzheimer’s Association. That number is expected to rise nearly 20 percent by 2025. As their dementia progresses, many of those Alabamians will need the help of loved ones to ensure their care.

Having a relative or friend with Alzheimer’s can be difficult to cope with and can test personal relationships. Loved ones who serve as caregivers may feel a variety of emotions. They may feel like the disease is stealing away parts of their relationship. They may feel overwhelmed by having to take on extra responsibilities. They may feel sadness at watching their loved one’s decline or anger at changes in their personality. Alzheimer’s has no cure and each day can bring on its own new set of challenges. However, there is hope in learning how to engage and communicate with a person who has Alzheimer’s. This can increase the likelihood of positive experiences and reduce frustration for everyone involved. The following are basic communication tips for enhancing interaction with a person who has Alzheimer’s disease:

  • Learn about the disease. Having knowledge about Alzheimer’s and how it impacts a person’s cognitive abilities helps increase understanding about their behavior and needs.
  • When communicating, make eye contact with the person and call them by name.
  • Be compassionate and show concern, even if the person is hard to understand.
  • Speak slowly and use short sentences with simple words.
  • Repeat or restate sentences, as needed.
  • Encourage a two-way conversation for as long as possible.
  • Remember that they are still a person. Don’t talk about them as if he or she isn’t there.
  • Treat them like an adult. Don’t talk to the person using “baby talk” or a “baby voice.”
  • Try using visual aids. Items like pictures help spark memories and ease conversation.
  • Use other methods besides speaking to help the person, such as gentle touching to guide him or her.
  • If communication becomes problematic, use distraction and suggest a fun activity.
  • Avoid arguing with a person with Alzheimer’s if they say something that is incorrect. Use distraction and redirection instead.
  • Be patient with outbursts and unpleasant behavior.
  • When frustrated, take a break away from the person and come back later.

If you need help caring for a person with Alzheimer’s disease, we can help. We provide 24-7 long-term healthcare in a safe and loving environment. Contact us today!