One of the most difficult adjustments for someone living with Alzheimer’s disease or other dementias is the change in their ability to communicate with those around them. Conversing with someone with dementia can be an exercise in frustration for all parties involved. Below are a few tips to keep in mind next time you’re visiting your loved one.
- Be welcoming. Don’t sneak up on your loved one and start a conversation. They’ll be startled and more easily agitated than if you take a moment to get their attention first. Sit at their level, introduce yourself, and make eye contact. Using their name will help to focus their attention, as well. Once you are sure their attention is on you, you can start your conversation.
- Be clear. Speak slowly and plainly. Their ability to follow conversations is diminished, so it is best to use shorter words and phrases. Be specific about what you are speaking of, instead of using more general words like ‘it’ or ‘that.’ A lower-pitched tone of voice can also be more soothing and easier for your loved one to follow.
- Be patient. Your loved one is going to take longer to process and respond to your questions. Give them time. Offer suggestions if they seem to be looking for a word, and only repeat yourself if you’ve given them sufficient time to reply. Also, be sure to ask only one question at a time. Overwhelming them with words and questions is a quick way to shut down your conversation.
- Don’t argue. This can be hard, as you may want to correct them if they’re wrong about something, but arguing will only upset your loved one. Instead of arguing, try to find the meaning behind their words. They may be having difficulty organizing their thoughts logically and using the wrong words to express themselves.
- Smile. Your feelings and reactions can affect their feelings and reactions. If you’re tense, your loved one will be, too. Positive, nonverbal signals like facial expressions and body language can make a world of difference when communicating with someone living with dementia. Maintaining a sense of humor can keep both your conversation and your loved one relaxed. When in doubt, take a moment to smile. It’s the easiest way to make someone feel safe, secure, and at ease.
These are just a few tips to make visiting your loved one easier. For more information on this subject and others facing family members and caregivers of persons with dementia, please visit www.alz.org/care or www.caregiver.org.