How To Communicate With a Person With Dementia

Trying to communicate with a person who has Alzheimers disease can be challenging. Communication skills are gradually eroded by dementia, so their behavior and words can become difficult to understand. They will also have difficulty understanding youractions and your words.

This combination creates misunderstandings and can cause tempers to rise on both sides. Knowing what to expect and learning how to communicate effectively as dementia progresses is important for everyone involved.
Dementia damages the neural pathways in the brain. This makes it difficult to understand what others are saying and find the right words to express what you mean.

A person with Alzheimers may incorrectly substitute one word for another, or create an entirely new word to use instead. They may get stuck in a rut and repeat the same word over and over, or ask you the same question repeatedly.

They may also:

  • Lose their train of thought mid-sentence
  • Need extra time to process and understand what youre saying
  • Struggle to organize their words in a logical sentence
  • Begin to speak in a way thats out of character for them “ like cursing or using offensive language

What can you do to help?

It is challenging, but you can learn to communicate effectively with a person with Alzheimers. Here are some suggestions:

Minimize distractions. Turn off the TV or the radio and try to minimize other outside noise.

Speak clearly. Speak in a clear, concise and straightforward manner. Introduce yourself regularly if needed.

Keep it simple. Use common words and short, direct sentences. Ask questions that can be answered with yes or no, and dont ask more than one question at a time. Break requests down into single steps.

Dont interrupt. It may take a while for a person with Alzheimers to respond to a question. Be patient and let them finish, and avoid rushing, correcting or criticizing them.

Show interest. Maintain eye contact, and stay focused on he or she, so they will know that youre listening and trying to understand.

Use visual language. A gesture or a visual cue can help you communicate. If youre asking them if they need to use the bathroom, take them there and point at the toilet while asking the question.

Dont argue. The reasoning and judgment of a person with Alzheimers gradually declines over time. Keep agitation and anger to a minimum by not engaging in any arguements.

Keep calm. Even when youre frustrated, stay calm and keep your tone gentle. Your nonverbal cues, like body language and tone of voice, may be sending a message.

Be respectful. Dont use baby talk and dont use diminutive language, e.g. good boy as praise. Do not assume that they cant understand when youre struggling to communicate with them. Never talk about them as if they werent there.

Communicating with a person with Alzheimers may become increasingly challenging as the disease progresses. Remember that your loved one isnt acting this way on purpose. Dont take their words and behaviour personally. You can help them feel secure and safe by being patient and understanding.


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