Alzheimer’s Disease: Tips for Better Communication

Reviewed by Arefa Cassoobhoy, MD, MPH on November 16, 2020

Communication gets harder for a person with Alzheimer's disease. They might struggle to find a way to express themselves, or forget the meaning of words and phrases. They might start to rely on gestures, especially as their 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:

  • Get their attention. Make sure you have your loved one’s attention before you start talking. Approach them from the front, identify yourself, and call them by name.
  • Be attentive. Show that you’re listening and trying to understand what they are 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 them with respect. Don't talk down to them or speak to others as if they are not there or don’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 they didn't understand the words the first time, they 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 them 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 them.
  • Be patient. Encourage them to keep expressing their thoughts, even if they have trouble getting them across. Be careful not to interrupt. Try not to criticize, correct, or argue with them.

Also, remember that non-verbal communication is important for a person with Alzheimer’s disease. Your presence, touch, gestures, and attention can remind them of your acceptance, reassurance, and love.

WebMD Medical Reference

Sources

SOURCE: Alzheimer's Association.

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