• Kathryn Watson

Communicating With Alzheimer’s

Updated: Feb 28


Families are often at a loss when it comes to communicating with someone with Alzheimer’s or any other type of dementia for that matter. In the beginning it may feel as if Mom is just being stubborn.

“At first Mom was calling me at work 5 or 6 times a day asking the same question. Now she calls 5 or 6 times an hour! What can I do to make her remember what I just told her?”

This is indeed a frustrating time. But the truth is there is nothing you can do to make her remember. If your Mom is home alone all day, this is part of the problem. Both she and you need help. Having someone at home with her or having mom in an environment like a Memory Care Home will give you both the support you need.

There are different communication challenges in the different stages of Alzheimer’s. Here are some suggestions that may help.

The Beginning Stage

Don’t assume that because someone has a diagnosis that they can not longer understand you. In the early stages your loved one may be able to understand a lot more than you think.

As such talk to them the same way you always have. Don’t ask a caregiver or nurse how they are doing. Speak directly to the person. They are still there.

Understand that there will be good days and not so good days. Be gentle on those not so good days.

Laugh often. It’s okay to laugh. In fact. it will help both of you.

Relax. When you are relaxed, your loved one will be also.

Symptoms are often reported to be less when everyone in the home is less stressed.

The Middle Stage

This stage can go on for years. Some people are not even diagnosed until they are in this stage. The following tips can help you to communicate with Alzheimer’s at this stage.

  • Make and maintain good eye contact. This show the person that you care about them and what they are saying.

  • Don’t finish sentences. Allow the person time to respond even when it seems like they cannot find the words. Breath deeply, relax, smile and just allow them to express their thoughts.

  • Don’t correct. Someone in this stage still has some awareness of who they are. Correcting them is embarrassing. And it could make them feel as if you do not approve of them. Learn to go with the flow. Even when what they are saying makes not sense or is not rooted in reality.

  • Ask “Yes or No” questions or “either /or” questions. Instead of “What would you like to drink”, ask “Would you like a cup of tea?” Likewise, “Which blouse do you want to wear today, the green one or the purple?”

The Late Stage

This stage can last from weeks to years. Many in this stage have lost language skills. As such they will rely on non-verbal communication. The following tips will help.

  • Always approach the person from the front and identify yourself.

  • Smile. This will help the person to understand that you are friendly and there to help.

  • Use touch, sights, sounds, smells and tastes as a form of communication with the person.

“Mom couldn’t speak. At least not with words. But her eyes spoke volumes. I would spend time massaging her hands using an aromatherapy cream. I simply smiled and talked softly. It really didn’t matter what I said what mattered was the touch and the communication with our eyes” ~Colleen

Learning how to communicate with Alzheimer’s will help both you and the one you love.

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