How to Communicate with a Loved One with Alzheimer’s Disease or Dementia
Alzheimer’s disease and other forms of dementia gradually diminish a person’s ability to communicate with others. If your loved one has been diagnosed with Alzheimer’s disease or dementia, in addition to memory problems, they may experience difficulty completing familiar tasks like paying bills or doing laundry, decreased or poor judgment, misplacing things or being unable to retrace their steps, and changes in mood, personality, or judgment.
Communicating with a loved one with Alzheimer’s disease or dementia requires patience and understanding. Each day may bring new challenges for caregivers, and caring for your loved one can be difficult and overwhelming at times. But these tips can help both you and your loved one understand and communicate more effectively with each other.
- Listen respectfully and compassionately.
Seeing a loved one struggle with paranoia, agitation, or repetitive actions (all signs of Alzheimer’s disease and dementia) can be upsetting. But, remember, what they’re experiencing is very real to them. Do not argue, disagree, or take it personally. Listen to their struggles and distract them or redirect their focus on other activities if needed. Give your loved one plenty of time to respond to questions or gather their thoughts before speaking. Take the time to listen patiently and allow them to express their thoughts, feelings, and needs to you in their own way.
- Do not talk about your loved one like they’re not in the room.
Don’t exclude them from conversations about their disease or treatment, and don’t make assumptions about their ability to communicate because of their diagnosis. Alzheimer’s disease and dementia affect everyone differently. Speak directly to them and ask what they are comfortable doing or what they feel they may need help with. As their disease progresses, this may not be an option, but in the earlier stages of memory loss, your loved one may still be able to participate in meaningful conversations about their quality of life.
- Keep it simple.
Ask one question or give one direction at a time, especially if your loved one does not remember how to perform daily tasks. Speak slowly and clearly. Ask yes or no questions rather than open-ended ones (i.e., Do you want a drink of water? vs. What drink would you like?). Offer clear, simple, step-by-step instructions for tasks as needed. Lengthy requests may be overwhelming to them.
- Stay positive.
Unfortunately, dementia has its ups and downs. There will be good days, and there will be bad days. Do not use offensive language or negative statements, even if your loved one has done so or you feel frustrated. Avoid arguing, be patient, and offer reassurance. Avoid criticizing or correcting. Instead, listen and try to find meaning in what they say. It’s okay to repeat your loved one’s words back to you for clarification. It’s also okay to laugh. Sometimes humor can lighten the mood and make tough conversations easier.
- Eliminate distractions.
Engage your loved one in one-on-one conversations in a quiet space. As their disease progresses, your loved one may struggle to pay attention or communicate with distractions like the TV, cell phones, or too many people are around. Set them up for success when communicating by lessening these disruptions.
- Don’t pull away or avoid them.
Your honesty, love, and support are important to your loved one. It’s okay if you don’t always know what to say. Sometimes just being present and listening is enough. Maintain eye contact—it’s a simple way to show your loved one that you care about them and what they are saying.
- Encourage nonverbal communication.
Struggling to understand what your loved one is trying to tell you? Ask them to point to objects or gesture. Use your senses—touch, sight, sounds, smells, and tastes—as communication, if able. You may need to rely on facial expressions or vocal sounds to determine your loved one’s needs. Pay attention to these and respond accordingly.
- Allow them to feel safe and secure.
Especially in later stages of dementia or Alzheimer’s disease, approach your loved one from the front and identify yourself. If they do not immediately recognize you, they may feel frightened or angry. If your loved one becomes upset or angry, try changing the subject or distracting and redirecting their energy. For example, if you ask them to eat a snack and they become angry, acknowledge how they feel and suggest going for a walk or listening to music instead. Maintain structure and security by keeping the same routines, too.
- Remember the good times.
Sharing good memories is a relaxing way to connect with your loved one. Many people with Alzheimer’s disease or dementia struggle with short-term memory, but they can recall details from their lives nearly 50 years ago. Connect with your loved one over old photographs or ask about people, places, and activities from years ago.
- Seek outside help—you don’t have to do it alone.
As Alzheimer’s disease and dementia progress, it’s normal to feel a significant loss. Lean on other caregivers and family members for support. Attend a support group in your area, schedule weekly check-ins with all family members to discuss caregiving responsibilities and know when it’s time to ask for additional help. Talk to your loved one’s doctor about significant behavioral changes to understand the triggers of these behaviors.
As your loved one’s disease worsens, they may need more intensive care. Grand Oaks’ award-winning memory care neighborhood offers a nurturing and peaceful environment to help calm your loved one. It also gives you peace of mind knowing your loved one is safe and their needs met. We offer personalized memory care, including medication monitoring and hands-on assistance with daily activities, responsive care from an on-site nursing team, life-enriching activities, socialization with other residents, and more.