Communication gets harder for a person with Alzheimer's disease. He might struggle to find a way to express himself, or forget the meaning of words and phrases. He might start to rely on gestures, especially as his verbal skills decline.
How you communicate with your loved one with Alzheimer's disease will be different than it used to be, but there are a few ways you can make it easier for both of you:
For John MacInnes, the beginnings of Alzheimer’s disease were startling. The retired executive and former pastor in Bloomfield Hills, Mich., first realized something was wrong as he was delivering a PowerPoint presentation to a community group. “Then in mid-sentence, I had problems,” he says. “I had a well-rehearsed script in front of me, but I couldn’t get the words right, couldn’t get them out. That kind of shook me up.”
Memory loss and impaired thinking are hallmark symptoms of this disease...
Get his attention. Make sure you have your loved one’s attention before you start talking. Approach him from the front, identify yourself, and call him by name.
Be attentive. Show that you’re listening and trying to understand what he’s saying. Keep eye contact as you talk. Use a gentle, relaxed tone of voice and friendly facial expressions.
Hands away. Try to keep your hands away from your face when you’re talking. Also, avoid mumbling or talking with food in your mouth.
Mind your words. Speak distinctly, but don't shout. Try not to talk too fast or too slow. Use pauses to give the person time to process what you're saying. Use short, simple, and familiar words.
Keep it simple. Give one-step directions. Ask one question at a time. Call people and things by name instead of “she,” “they,” or “it.”
Be positive. Instead of saying, "Don't do that," say, "Let's try this."
Treat him with respect. Don't talk down to him or speak to others as if he’s not there or doesn’t understand you.
Rephrase rather than repeat. If the listener has a hard time understanding what you're saying, find a different way to say it. If he didn't understand the words the first time, he probably won’t get them a second time.
Adapt to your listener. Try to understand the words and gestures your loved one is using to communicate. Don't force him to try to understand your way of conversing.
Reduce background noise. Noise from the TV or radio makes it harder to hear and it competes with you for the listener's attention. Cut down on any sounds that will distract him.
Be patient. Encourage him to keep expressing his thoughts, even if he’s having trouble getting them across. Be careful not to interrupt. Try not to criticize, correct, or argue with him.
Also, remember that non-verbal communication is important for a person with Alzheimer’s disease. Your presence, touch, gestures, and attention can remind him of your acceptance, reassurance, and love.