What to Say to Someone with Alzheimer’s
It’s indescribably painful to witness the deterioration of a loved one who suffers from Alzheimer’s disease, or another type of dementia. As the disease progresses, we see minor forgetfulness morph into severe impairment, eventually causing communication to become a problem.
Knowing how to communicate and connect with our loved ones who suffer from forms of cognitive impairment is important as the disease progresses. Learn more about what to say to someone with Alzheimer’s.
How to Communicate with Someone with Alzheimer’s
According to the Alzheimer’s Association, one in 10 Americans have a family member with Alzheimer’s, and one in three know someone with the disease. Since people are living longer, more and more Americans are suffering from memory disorders — which means every family is likely to be affected at some point.
Learning techniques about how to act and what to say to someone with Alzheimer’s or dementia can help families emotionally connect with their loved ones. As with any brain disorder, there are special approaches involved with communication. Dr. Ashford, Neuroscientist from Stanford University and A Place for Mom Advisory Board member, says:
“You can’t be judgmental or critical to aging loved ones who suffer from memory impairment; and asking detailed questions is probably not the best idea. When all else fails, ask open-ended questions and keep the conversation going smoothly. Help your loved one feel comfortable as the human connection is the most powerful.”
As Dr. Ashford notes, there are tips to make conversing and visiting with loved ones who suffer from memory impairment a little easier for everyone.
Read below for some more strategies to help you and your aging loved ones maintain a positive relationship, despite Alzheimer’s or dementia.
Ways to Act Around Someone with Alzheimer’s or Dementia
If you want to meaningfully connect with your loved one who suffers from memory impairment, you have to set the mood.
Here are some tips:
- Avoid distractions — Create a comfortable ambiance that doesn’t have a lot of stimuli so that your loved one can focus all their mental energy on the conversation.
- Be a good listener — Nod your head and interact with your loved one’s conversation. If you don’t understand something, politely ask open-ended questions.
- Don’t criticize — Be compassionate and do not try to correct your loved one if they are inaccurate. Feel free to go along with their delusions and misstatements to see where the conversation takes you.
- Use a calm voice and warm tone — Don’t be condescending and don’t use heightened emotion. Speak clearly using a calm manner.
- Use names — Avoid pronouns and refer to people by their names. Be sure to greet your loved one with their name.
- Use nonverbal cues — Keep eye contact and smile around your loved one. Maintaining an inviting demeanor will help your loved one stay at ease, and comfortable body language can help your loved one recognize that you are someone familiar, even if they don’t recognize or remember exactly who you are.
What to Say to Someone with Alzheimer’s
People who suffer from memory impairment have trouble expressing emotions and thoughts, and also have trouble understanding others. Even if you think your loved one has become a shell of a person and is no longer there — they are. You just have to figure out a different way to reach them and know what to say to someone with Alzheimer’s or dementia.
The Alzheimer’s Association provides “dos” and “dont’s” for effective communication:
- Accept the blame when something’s wrong (even if it’s a fantasy)
- Agree with them or distract them to a different subject or activity
- Allow plenty of time for comprehension… then triple it
- Avoid insistence — try again later
- Be cheerful, patient and reassuring
- Eliminate “but” from your vocabulary, substitute “nevertheless”
- Give short, one sentence explanations
- Go with the flow
- Have patience
- Leave the room, if necessary, to avoid confrontations
- Practice 100% forgiveness
- Repeat instructions of sentences exactly the same way
- Respond to the feelings rather than the words
- Speak clearly and naturally
- Talk about one thing at a time
- Don’t argue
- Don’t confront
- Don’t question recent memory
- Don’t reason
- Don’t remind them they forget
- Don’t take it personally
It’s also important to recognize what you are up against. Memory disorders continue to get worse with time, so your loved one will not improve; and you have to accept that. You need to have patience and make the conversation as pleasant as possible.
Remember to Be Patient
There is currently no cure for Alzheimer’s or other forms of dementia, and the brain is very complex. Your loved one will have both bad and good days, and you’ll just have to be patient. Knowing how to act around someone with Alzheimer’s or how to help someone with Alzheimer’s will only go so far.
Be kind and remember your loved one for their good times. Above all else, be loving and respectful, as they need you now more than ever.
To learn more about how to communicate effectively with a loved one with dementia, you can also attend one of the Alzheimer’s Association’s chapter’s Education Programs, or attend a Support Group near you.
Do you have advice about communicating with someone with Alzheimer’s or dementia? In what ways have you been able to connect with your loved one, despite the obstacles? Share your stories with us in the comments below.
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