5 Alzheimer's Communication Tips for Families

  • April 25, 2019

When an older adult you are close to has Alzheimer’s disease, finding ways to communicate with them can become more challenging. As the disease progresses, verbal communication can be difficult. Some seniors with Alzheimer’s have trouble finding the right words, while others completely lose their ability to speak.

Unfortunately, verbal skills aren’t the only communication skills that become impaired. Vision changes, including a loss of peripheral vision, need to be taken into consideration. The ability to read and write is also impacted.

While not being able to carry on a conversation can be discouraging, there are other steps you can take to communicate with a senior who has Alzheimer’s.

5 Tips for Communicating with a Senior Who Has Alzheimer’s

  1. Show empathy: Think about how difficult it must be to know something is wrong, and be unable to express your fears and frustrations to anyone. Being unable to tell someone that you are in pain, urgently need a bathroom, or are hungry is very difficult. It’s important to demonstrate to your loved one that you are empathetic to the situation. A soft voice combined with a soothing demeanor can help make them feel comfortable as they try to express their needs and feelings.
  2. Watch body language: Along with showing empathy is being mindful of your body language. The nonverbal cues you give off can make communication easier or more difficult. A kind smile and good eye contact while you are talking can put your loved one at ease and let them know you are listening and interested. By contrast, talking too fast or too loudly can feel like anger to someone with Alzheimer’s disease. These behaviors can cause them to feel agitated and aggressive.
  3. Meet the senior where they are: A challenge for friends and family of a loved one with Alzheimer’s disease is figuring out how to meet the senior where they are on their journey. Resist the urge to correct someone with Alzheimer’s when they mix things up. It only makes their life more confusing. Remind yourself that the disease has impaired the senior’s cognitive and reasoning skills, robbing them of short-term memory. Trying to force them to remember forgotten events, such as a loved one’s death, only causes them to be sad over and over again. Instead, join them in their reality and go with it.
  4. Be mindful of your approach: Another important communication tip is to think about how you approach an adult with Alzheimer’s. Because peripheral vision is often impaired as the disease advances, they may be unable to see you coming from the side. You might startle the senior, leading them to strike out in fear. Also keep in mind, although difficult to think about, there may come a day when a loved one with Alzheimer’s no longer recognizes friends and family. Approaching them from the front while making eye contact and saying their name may put them at ease even if they don’t quite remember who you are.
  5. Utilize visual cues: One practice used in memory care communities, like Five Star Senior Living, is to use visual cues. For example, label the bathroom door with a sign that shows a picture of a toilet. Have a picture of a toothbrush and toothpaste on the drawer or cabinet where you store those items. You might also want to create cue cards with pictures of frequently used phrases or words your loved one might not be able to say any longer, such as water, cookie, bed, and toilet. Show these cards to the senior when they are struggling to express their needs. An adult with Alzheimer’s can usually recognize visual cues even after their ability to read is lost. 

We know it can be difficult to care for a loved one with Alzheimer’s on your own. If you would like to learn more about our award-winning Alzheimer’s care program, please call us at (617) 796-8387. We’ll be happy to answer your questions and schedule a tour of a Five Star Senior Living community near you!
 


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