Talking to someone with Alzheimer’s can be a frustrating task if you don’t take the right approach. Effective Alzheimer’s communication often takes a lot more effort than just talking for the sake of breaking the silence. Like any conversation, one with an Alzheimer’s patient is an opportunity to express their thoughts and feel important. It’s also a chance for you to understand how the person feels and what they need that they aren’t getting.
Although engaging in conversation with a person whose condition has progressed is more challenging, it is possible. It’s important to both of you to take advantage of every moment you have while they can still communicate orally. Once that ability is gone, there are still some activities that will help them communicate. Getting the greatest value from every moment matters to the both of you even if that’s a feeling they can’t express.
Top Tips for Talking with an Alzheimer’s Patient
Every Alzheimer’s case is different but the one feature every patient has in common is memory loss. In the early stages, they may have difficulty finding their words or remembering names. As their condition progresses, memory loss tends to go backward from the present. They may remember things as they were ten, twenty, or thirty years ago.
Their abilities may also differ from one day to the next. Some days they may be more responsive to your attempts at conversation than others. Don’t let a less-than-amazing interaction keep you from attempting to talk with them again. Consider the tips below to help build your skills for more effective Alzheimer’s communication during any phase of the disease.
- Don’t assume they can’t communicate with you based on their diagnosis alone. Depending on the stage of the disease and how it affects them individually, their capabilities will differ.
- Approach them from the front so you don’t startle them. Bend down or sit in a chair across from them so you are at the same level. Approaching or speaking from the side or hovering over them can be intimidating or scary.
- Always engage them face-to-face. Make eye contact and keep it throughout the conversation. Call them by name to help keep their attention. Their name is something they’ve known their entire life. It’s one of the last things they’re going to forget.
- Choose a place where there aren’t a lot of distractions or background noise. A TV playing or people talking nearby might not be distracting to you but they make it more difficult for the person with Alzheimer’s to stay focused.
- Keep it simple. Although you shouldn’t prevent others from talking with the person, one-on-one conversations are best.
- Don’t make any surprise moves. Let them know if you plan to take their hand or you plan to place a photo album in their lap. Touch is an important way to make a connection with an Alzheimer’s patient. Just make sure they know what to expect so their fear doesn’t overshadow anything positive your actions would otherwise gain.
- Speak with kindness in your voice. If you feel any anger or hostility, make sure it doesn’t come through in your tone. Otherwise, they’re likely to respond in a similar albeit more hostile manner.
- Keep your speech short and slow. The less you throw at them, the more likely they’ll be to interpret what you’re saying. Expect their answers to be just as short and to the point. “Has Jill been to see you this morning? Did Rob call yesterday? These questions are better than those that require more complex answers. “Has anyone been to see you lately?”
- Don’t turn your conversation into a memory game. They may realize they can’t remember things or not. People with Alzheimer’s often use familiar words repeatedly or struggle to find the right one. You don’t need to point out their shortcomings. If you see they’re struggling with something, just lead them in a different direction. “Let’s talk about something else instead. You don’t have to be coy about leading the conversation in a new direction. They are still adults and deserve to be treated with respect.
- Give them the time they need to respond. If they’re struggling to find a word, don’t help unless they ask for it. There’s no need to hurry.
- Don’t argue, criticize, or correct them. If they are angry or upset over something without merit, acknowledge their feelings and then lead them in another direction. Allowing them to focus on these feelings will only allow them to intensify.
- Reading body language is one of the skills you need for successful Alzheimer’s communication. Once their ability to speak and express their thoughts is compromised, facial expressions or actions can give you clues. Pay attention to their responses and their actions in addition to what they say.
- Be prepared to enter their world. Agreeing not to correct them on using the wrong word is one thing. Being prepared not to argue that a deceased spouse is still there is more difficult. The fact is that it isn’t going to hurt anybody if you just play along.
- Have a good laugh. Laughter relieves stress and might even pave the way for a better conversation.
- Be patient. That can be easier said than done but it’s a necessity. It’s impossible to know what is going on in their mind. Make it as easy as possible for them to keep up their side of the conversation.
- Be a good listener. Let them know that you really care about their feelings. They could offer clues about things that they need. Most importantly, they need the interest and support that your efforts show.
Having a conversation with your loved one is just one of the ways to make life better for an Alzheimer’s patient. It is important to have them in a safe environment where they feel secure. They also need to engage in regular activities designed to stimulate the brain and help preserve their memory. Even after Alzheimer’s communication is no longer possible, engaging in music therapy or arts and crafts allow them to express themselves.
Contact Lakeside Manor to learn more about Alzheimer’s assisted living and get the best possible care for your loved one.