Alzheimer’s disease and other dementias gradually diminish a person’s ability to communicate, which can be challenging. A family member or friend with dementia may have difficulty understanding you, and you may have a hard time understanding what he or she is trying to communicate. There’s potential for misunderstanding, confusion or frustration in both directions — making communication even more difficult. Communication with a person with Alzheimer’s requires patience, understanding and good listening skills. The strategies below can help both you and the person with dementia understand each other better. Every person’s experience of dementia is unique, so not every tip may be helpful to the person you care for. Use the tips that you feel will improve communication between you.
1. Recognize what you’re up against. Dementia inevitably gets worse with time. People with dementia will gradually have a more difficult time understanding others, as well as communicating in general.
2. Avoid distractions. Try to find a place and time to talk when there aren’t a lot of distractions present. This allows your loved one to focus all their mental energy on the conversation.
3. Speak clearly and naturally in a warm and calm voice. Refrain from ‘babytalk’ or any other kind of condescension.
4. Refer to people by their names. Avoid pronouns like “he,” “she,” and “they” during conversation. Names are also important when greeting a loved one with dementia. For example: “Hi, Grandma. It’s me, Jeff,” is to be preferred over, “Hi. It’s me.”
5. Talk about one thing at a time. Someone with dementia may not be able to engage in the mental juggling involved in maintaining a conversation with multiple threads.
6. Use nonverbal cues. For example, maintain eye contact and smile. This helps put your loved one at ease and will facilitate understanding. And when dementia is very advanced, nonverbal communication may be the only option available.
7. Listen actively. If you don’t understand something your loved one is telling you, politely let them know.
8. Don’t quibble. Your conversations are not likely to go very far if you try to correct every inaccurate statement your loved one makes. It’s okay to let delusions and misstatements go.
9. Have patience. Give your loved one extra time to process what you say. If you ask a question, give a moment to respond. Don’t let frustration get the better of you.
10. Understand there will be good days and bad days. While the general trend of dementia sufferers is a downward decline, people with dementia will have ups and downs just like anyone else.