Improving Communication With Alzheimer's Disease Patients
A person with Alzheimer's disease may become confused and have difficulty communicating. He or she may struggle to find the right words to express him or herself, or may forget the meaning of words and phrases. The person also may rely on gestures, especially as his or her verbal skills decline.
There are several strategies you can use to improve communication with your loved one with Alzheimer's disease.
I didn't know anything about Alzheimer's before my mother and
my stepfather developed it at roughly the same time in the spring of 2005. I
was living outside of Portland, Oregon; they were living in Mission, Texas.
They were 86 and 84, respectively. I had tried to talk them into moving to an
assisted-living community in Portland previously, but they always said they
were doing fine. So I was surprised when my mother called one morning out of
the blue and said, "We need help."
My husband and...
Gain attention. Gain the listener's attention before you begin talking. Approach the person from the front, identify yourself, and call him or her by name.
Maintain eye contact. Visual communication is very important. Facial expressions and body language add vital information to the communication. For example, you are able to "see" a person's anger, frustration, excitement, or lack of comprehension by watching the expression on his or her face.
Be attentive. Show that you are listening and trying to understand what is being said. Use a gentle and relaxed tone of voice, as well as friendly facial expressions.
Hands away. When talking, try to keep your hands away from your face. Also, avoid mumbling or talking with food in your mouth. If you smoke, don't talk with a cigarette between your lips.
Speak naturally. Speak distinctly, but don't shout. Speak at a normal rate -- not 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 only one question at a time. Identify people and things by name, avoiding pronouns.
Be positive. Instead of saying, "Don't do that," say, "Let's try this."
Rephrase rather than repeat. If the listener has difficulty understanding what you're saying, find a different way of saying it. If he or she didn't understand the words the first time, it is unlikely he or she will understand them a second time.
Adapt to your listener. Try to understand the words and gestures your loved one is using to communicate. Adapt to his or her way of communicating; don't force your loved one to try to understand your way of communicating.
Reduce background noise. Reduce background noise, such as from the TV or radio, when speaking. In addition to making it harder to hear, the TV or radio can compete with you for the listener's attention.
Be patient. Encourage the person to continue to express his or her thoughts, even if he or she is having difficulty. Be careful not to interrupt. Avoid criticizing, correcting, and arguing.
In addition, remember the importance of non-verbal communication. The presence, touch, gestures, and attention of caregivers can help to communicate acceptance, reassurance, and love to a person with Alzheimer's disease. In all cases, treat your loved one with dignity and respect. Don't speak down to the person or speak to others as if he or she is a child or isn't present.