How Do I Communicate With My Loved One Who Has Alzheimers?

Closeup of a lonely older man sitting alone on a porch

Good communication can decrease or even prevent many behavior problems. The number one tip to remember is to treat your loved one as an adult. An individual with a disease, not a diseased individual. He has an entire history of life that stays with him throughout this journey. He will continue to have many of the same characteristics he had before. If he was laid back before, he may be more so now. If he had a high energy/anxiety, he may be really busy. Or, he may have a complete personality change.

All people need to have their feelings validated. A person with Alzheimer’s disease is no different. In fact, because of memory loss and insecurity issues, he or she may need it even more. An example: your father who has Alzheimer’s is angry with your husband most of the time. They have had a great relationship since you’ve been married, but now your father blames him for everything. As difficult as it is, keep in mind that the dementia is talking, not your father. You can say, “I don’t blame you for being angry” and then move on. What he is feeling is real to him even if it is not accurate. You will probably have to coach your husband, also. Let him know that this action isn’t against him personally, it is the nature of the illness and… “this too shall pass.”

Individuals with Alzheimer’s disease respond well to affirmation. When they do anything, no matter how insignificant to you it may be, praise them with “Good job, thank you.” Be sincere, they are sensitive to the way they are treated.

When beginning a conversation, identify yourself. If your loved one says “I know who you are,” laugh or say something humorous. Slow down when you speak and use short simple sentences. Ask one question at a time. Give adequate time for response. Yes/No questions are best. When speaking, maintain eye contact. Lower the tone of your voice; a high pitch may be interpreted as anger. Eliminate distracting noise. Turn off TV or radio, or go to another room to talk. Smile and be pleasant. Use touch to get attention, (hand on shoulder, hand on knee, hand on hand, holding their hand, etc.). When he or she is upset and you can’t communicate, hug your loved one. This nonverbal gesture works. Soon anger will be forgotten and you can try again.

Be aware of body language. A sudden sit to stand change in position may indicate the need to go to the bathroom or some kind of discomfort. Be aware of your body language. Have fun and try not to appear tense. Don’t argue. Don’t order the person around. Don’t be condescending. Don’t ask a lot of questions. Don’t talk about your loved one as if he isn’t there. You never know just how aware he is.

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