Improving Communication With A Loved One With Alzheimer’s Disease

When someone you love has Alzheimer’s Disease, every day communication can be a challenge. Decreased communication abilities does not mean that the person is unaware of their surroundings. Most people with Alzheimer’s disease are very aware of the difficulty they are having, especially early on in the disease process.

Here are some general tips to help decrease the frustration surrounding communication:

  • Reality orientation or trying to encourage a person to remember simply do not work. Instead, use memory aids such as labeling objects (i.e. closet, bathroom).
  • Be aware that as Alzheimer’s disease progresses, an individual’s ability to name objects and use words decreases.
  • When you need their attention, it pays to simplify the environment for the person with Alzheimer’s. Eliminate distracting noises such as the radio or TV, or loud conversation so that he or she can concentrate more effectively.
  • If you have an intercom system at home, do not use it to communicate with the person with Alzheimer’s disease. The person may be frightened or confused by hearing a voice on the intercom.
  • Always begin by identifying yourself and calling the person’s name. Always approach the person from the front. Maintain good eye contact.
  • Use short, simple sentences. Speak slowly. Be specific. Use the name of the person or object instead of “this” or “they”.
  • Keep tone of voice low and pleasant and facial expression warm and friendly.
  • Use non-verbal cues: a reassuring touch, a smile, a demonstration stating the emotion.
  • Give the person plenty of time to respond to your question (20 seconds). If you need to repeat what you’ve said, repeat your question exactly the same way.
  • Use concrete language. Avoid abstract terms.
  • Talk in positive terms. Constant use of “no” or commands increases resistance.
  • Don’t test his or her memory. Erase the words, “Don’t you remember?” from your vocabulary.
  • Give directions simply and one at a time.
  • When helping with personal care, tell the person what you are doing each step of the way.
  • Add occasional social or reassuring comments to avoid “task-focused talk” only.
  • Do not appear rushed or tense. The person will become tense and agitated.
  • Listen. Try to find the key thought and take note of the feeling or emotion being expressed along with the spoken word.
  • Reassure through words. Remind him who you are and that you will take care of him.
  • Sometimes asking a “Why” question can get to the reason behind a repetitive question and decrease its occurrence. (i.e. “Why are you concerned about what time it is?”)

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