8 Tips for Communicating When a Loved One Has Alzheimer’s

  • January 04, 2016

As our population continues to grey, the number of people living with Alzheimer’s is climbing. Because Alzheimer’s frequently robs people of their verbal skills, finding ways to communicate with a senior loved one who has the disease can be challenging.

The Alzheimer’s experts at Five Star Senior Living have pulled together a few tips to help.

8 Tips for Communicating When a Senior Has Alzheimer’s

  1. Empathize: Understand that your loved one with Alzheimer’s has lost some or all of their verbal abilities. It is frustrating and frightening to them. They may be in be in pain, hungry or thirsty and be unable to convey that to you. Using a calm, soft voice can show them you empathize with them. This will help put them at ease as they try to use other methods to communicate with you.
  2. Eye Contact: Making eye contact with someone with Alzheimer’s is important. It not only helps you assess their face for signs of pain or sadness, it also ensures they see you approaching them. This disease often leads to a loss of peripheral vision. If you approach your loved one from behind or beside them, it can be startling. They might strike out at you unintentionally.
  3. Enter their Reality: Avoid trying to correct or set your senior with Alzheimer’s “straight” when they confuse things. Because the disease impairs short-term memory and reasoning skills, they won’t be able to understand or even remember if you try. This includes forcing them to “understand” that a loved one has died. It only causes them to relive their sadness over and over again.
  4. Non-Verbal Cues: A kind facial expression is one of the non-verbal cues that can make a big difference to a loved one with Alzheimer’s. Keep a friendly smile on your face when you are talking with them. It lets them know you aren’t angry. Remember that talking too fast around someone with this disease can increase agitation. Try to keep all non-verbal cues gentle and calming.
  5. Be Patient: If your senior loved one still has some verbal skills left, allow them to try to express themselves. It might take longer to find the right words, but it is important to let them try without interruption.
  6. Limit the Distractions: When you want to have a conversation with your family member, pick a quiet place free of distractions. Turn off the television and sit close to them. It will help them focus on your words.
  7. Short, Closed Questions: It also helps in communicating with an adult with Alzheimer’s if you use short sentences and questions that can be answered with a yes or no.
  8. Visual Cues: One final tip is to use visual cues to help make communication easier. It might include pointing to items you think your loved one needs, such as a glass of water or a blanket. It could also be by creating cue cards with photos on them for frequently used words, like toast, eggs, coffee or even a photo of the bathroom.

    The Alzheimer’s Association created an Alzheimer’s Communication Guide you can download at no cost. It outlines additional techniques you and your family can utilize with the senior you love.


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