Communicating With Seniors With Alzheimer’s or Dementia

We dream of our parents’ golden years as peaceful decades spent in the embrace and warmth of family, home, and lives well-lived, both past and present. But with one in ten senior citizens diagnosed with Alzheimer’s dementia, it’s possible that you may have to face a reality where a loved one is afflicted with a disease that sometimes leaves them a shadow of who you knew.

Alzheimer’s and dementia are frightening for everyone – for family members as well as the person suffering from them. Fortunately, one of the best tools to ease their discomfort and yours is communication that provides reliable, reassuring information in a constant manner. We’ve gathered a few essential things to remember that can re-open communication channels.

Remembering Your Loved One’s Difficulties

Proper communication with an individual suffering from Alzheimer’s begins with remembering that they’re not experiencing the conversation the same way that you are. They may have difficulty:

  • Finding the right word or understanding what certain words mean, especially “new” words like “iPad,” “cellphone,” “Facebook,” or recently introduced names of people or places
  • Paying attention during long conversations, especially when something mentioned earlier in the conversation is referenced again
  • Blocking out background noises from the radio, TV, or conversations going on elsewhere

If you can communicate simply with a vocabulary that would make sense to the individual ten years earlier, and keep conversation “episodic” or contained, without outside distractions, you’re well on your way to making it easier for them to engage with you and enjoy your presence.

Be Mindful of Body Language and Tone

A great deal of effective communication lies outside of what words you say. Your posture, tone, and even your facial expressions can be sources of confusion or reassurance in conversations. Be sure to:

  • Make eye contact, and be ready to meet their eyes when they look away. This anchors their attention on you and what’s being said
  • Be aware of your tone and how loud your voice is, how you look at the person, and your body language; they may grow frustrated and experience difficulty if they sense you’re frustrated with them
  • Encourage a two-way conversation for as long as possible; even if they may be talking at length, let them do so
  • Use other methods besides speaking, such as a gentle hand on their wrist or shoulder; physical contact further cements the conversation that’s occurring

Enjoy Real Conversations

Many try and “dumb down” conversations with Alzheimer’s and dementia patients, forgetting that the person they love is very much present. Conversations with these individuals can be productive, meaningful, and engaging to you, too – it simply requires a bit of conscious work. Try to:

  • Show a warm, loving, matter-of-fact manner. Be aware of their difficulties and work with them in an understanding manner
  • Be open to the person’s concerns, even if they’re hard to understand. If they’re frustrated at a difficult junction, offer some sentences to help bridge the gap but let them continue once they’re back on track
  • Let them make some decisions and stay involved. Much like you, Alzheimer’s and dementia patients are far more invested when they’re engaged in the conversation!
  • Don’t talk about the person as if they’re not there; they may be aware of you more deeply than you know, and this sort of conversational “distancing” can cause them to retreat further into loneliness

A Real Conversation

Taking care of an Alzheimer’s or dementia patient, especially at home, can be an immense burden. You may find yourself feeling isolated or overwhelmed, especially because communication can be so difficult. A Care Professional can make a world of a difference.

Our Care Professionals are especially helpful in renewing communications in situations where Alzheimer’s or dementia may seem to be only increasing the distance. They’re trained to understand, listen, and facilitate conversations that are rich and rewarding that will draw your loved ones closer to you and your family.