Communicating with a loved one with Alzheimer’s disease can be difficult. Your loved one may have difficulty understanding you, and they may face difficulties trying to convey what they are thinking in a clear and concise way. To talk to loved one with Alzheimer’s disease, you’ll need good listening skills and patience, but you’ll also need new and more effective strategies.
Know What to Expect
When you know what to expect, you’ll be able to prepare yourself to enter a conversation with your loved one with calm and with understanding. Some things that you might expect from communication with your loved one include them:
- Having difficulty with finding the right words to convey specifically what they are thinking
- Describing an object rather than referring to it by its name
- Repeating stories, questions, phrases, or words
- Mixing unrelated ideas
- Losing their train of thought
- Speaking less often
- Returning to the safety of their mother tongue in a conversation. This can be difficult if you are not fluent in this language.
How You Can Help
When trying to communicate with a loved one with Alzheimer’s disease, it’s important that understanding goes both ways. Loved ones who require memory care need a safe and patient environment. Here’s how you can help:
- Take your time to listen to your loved one, and give them the time to talk without interruption.
- You may need to put on your interpreter’s gloves. At times, you might need to try and decipher what your loved one is trying to say based on contextual clues. If your loved one is struggling to name an object, for instance, try guessing what it is based on their descriptions.
- Remain present and connected. Make eye contact while communicating and address your loved one using the designation they prefer.
- Be aware of your body language. Speak calmly and maintain a relaxed posture.
- If your loved one is having trouble communicating, provide gentle encouragement and let them know that you are willing to give them the time and space to speak.
- Be respectful. Don’t use baby talk, or condescending phrases such as “good girl”. Don’t talk about the person as if they weren’t there.
- Limit visual and auditory distractions. A television or radio going on in the background can make it difficult for both parties to hear each other or listen attentively.
- Use brisk, short sentences and keep communication simple and straightforward. You might need to ask questions with a decisive yes or no answer, or whittle your requests down to basic steps.
- Offer your loved one choices, such as giving them the option to shower before or after dinner.
- Visual cues can prompt better understanding than words alone, so it’s helpful to use them if needed.
- Avoid criticizing and arguing. If you’re frustrated, it’s fine to take a break.
Above all, it’s important to understand that your loved one is likely feeling just as confused and frustrated as you are. Activities such as art therapy, or spending some time in nature, are good ways for them to destress and regain their sense of self. But it’s also important that you are taking the time to take care of yourself, so don’t feel bad if you need a break from a difficult conversation.