Communicating with someone struggling from Alzheimer’s disease or related dementias can be difficult. The natural progression of the disease and decline of communication skills can be frustrating for both of you. Here are some tips and information to help make your interactions more effective.
What Changes Can I Expect?
For an individual with dementia, the ability to communicate can vary. Some of the problems that may occur include*:
- Finding the right words
- Using familiar words repeatedly
- Describing familiar objects rather than by name
- Easily losing train of thought
- Difficulty organizing words logically
- Reverting to speaking a native language
- Speaking less often
- Relying on gestures more than speaking
How Do I Communicate With Someone In the Early Stage of Dementia?
In the mild or early stage of dementia, an individual is still able to participate in a dialogue, have meaningful conversations and engage in social activities. They may repeat stories, struggle finding the right word or feel overwhelmed by too much stimulation. Here are some tips*:
- Don’t make assumptions about a person’s ability to communicate. Dementia affects each person differently
- Don’t exclude the person from conversations
- Speak directly to the person and ask how he or she is doing
- Take time to listen to the person’s feelings, thinking or needs
- Give the person time to respond. Don’t interrupt or finish sentences unless asked for help
- Ask what the person is still comfortable doing and what they may need help with
- Ask how the person prefers to communicate – in-person, email, text or phone
- Use humor and laugh to help lighten the mood and ease the conversation
- Be honest and frank about your feelings. Don’t pull away. Your support is important
How do I Communication with Someone in the Middle Stage of Dementia?
The moderate or middle stage of dementia can last for many years. The individual will have greater difficulty communicating and will need more direct care. Here are some tips*:
- Allow time for response
- Engage in one-on-one conversation in quiet space with little distraction
- Be patient and supportive. Offer comfort and reassurance and encourage them to communicate their feelings
- Maintain good eye contact to show you care
- Avoid criticizing or correcting. Listen and try to find the meaning. Repeat to clarify
- Avoid arguing
- Don’t overwhelm with complex topics. Break it down with clear step-by-step instructions
- Speak slowly and clearly
- Ask one question at a time
- Ask yes or no questions
- Give visual cues to help demonstrate a task
- Written notes can help
How do I Communication with Someone in the Late Stage of Dementia?
The severe or late stage of dementia may last for several weeks to several years. The person may rely on non-verbal communication such as facial expressions or vocal cues. In most cases around-the-clock care is usually required. Here are some tips:
- Treat the person with dignity and respect
- Avoid talking down to the individual or as if he or she is not there
- Encourage non-verbal communication. If you don’t understand what is being said, ask the person to point or gesture
- The emotions may be more important than the words. Look for the feelings behind the words or sounds
- Use touch, sights, smells and tastes as a form of communication with the person
- It’s ok not to know what to say. Your presence, touch and friendship are more important
What Help is Available?
Arden Courts was designed exclusively for individuals living with Alzheimer’s disease and related dementias, so our specially trained staff is able to concentrate on the programs and life skills that best meet our residents’ unique needs – promoting their independence and individuality, their health and their spiritual well-being. Arden Courts Memory Care Communities offer a resource library within each facility to help families understand and cope with Alzheimer’s and related dementia. Please contact the Arden Courts nearest you or visit us at Arden-Courts.com for more information and resources.
*Information collected from The Alzheimer’s Association, Alz.org