ACT on Alzheimer's: Communication tips

In an effort to raise awareness, educate our community, reduce the stigma associated with Alzheimer’s disease and assist families who have been touched by Alzheimer’s disease; this month’s article highlights communication tips for family and friends of someone with Alzheimer’s disease and related forms of memory loss. You may find that as the disease progresses the person with memory loss does not talk like they used to. They may have trouble finding words. Their sentences may be short and choppy. There may be changes with the person’s voice. Their words may not make sense. This is called “word salad.” When you listen to this person, you know they are trying very hard to tell you what they want. Their words just come out wrong.  

Here are some practical tips to help you with these changes in communication:

Be patient and calm.

Touch (holding hands) is very important.

Don’t use baby talk.

Stop what you are doing. Really listen to what this person is trying to say. 

Check into the feelings behind the words they are trying to say. 

Observe body language, this can give clues to what they are trying to tell you.

If the person looks upset or angry, ask them if they are.

Treat this person with dignity and respect.

Tell this person exactly what you want this person to do.

Use ordinary words. Instead of saying “Hop in the shower,” say “Please come here your shower is ready.”

Turn your questions into answers for them. Say, “The bathroom is right here. I can walk there with you.” instead of asking, “Do you need to use the bathroom?” 

Here are some Communication Do’s and Don’ts that can make all the difference in getting you through the day:

Do take a deep breath. Breathe.

Don’t argue with the person. It is easier to agree and then do what you had planned anyway.

Don’t try and reason. You will get angry and they will not know why. Try changing the conversation to something they enjoy talking about.

Don’t correct or fuss at them for getting something wrong. Ask yourself; Does it really matter? It will only make them feel bad. 

Don’t say “I just told you that.” Just repeat the answer you have already given. 

Don’t ask them to remember things that happened in the past. Talk about what you remember and how they were a part of it. 

Don’t say “You can’t do that by yourself.” Say “Do as much as you can, and I will help you.”

Don’t demand things from them. Always show them what you want them to do.

Balanced living lies in the fine art of mingling letting go and holding on.” ~Havelock Ellis

Sources: Dementia Friends of Minnesota. Coach Broyles Playbook for Alzheimer’s Caregivers. Alzheimer’s Association

FOR MORE RESOURCES and guidance in caring for someone with dementia, contact Jayne Mund, Caregiver Consultant, at 651-257-7905 or email jaynem@familypathways.org.

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