Talking to and Understanding those with Alzheimer's

Alzheimer’s disease is a debilitating condition which can leave people unable to communicate in advanced stages. For instance, as one loses their memory, it can be difficult to talk to them, or understanding what they speak of, but also trying to ensure they comprehend what you’re saying in return can be difficult at times. Nonetheless, communication is still important to those afflicted with this disease.


Keep Things Simple

As it gets more difficult for the person with Alzheimer’s to understand things, it’s best to keep your conversation simple and straightforward. For example, offer only two choices if you are giving the person an option. Sometimes, it may be best to only give them one option, such as “Would you like cereal for breakfast?”

If you offer too many selections or use long sentences without a break, it can be difficult for the person to remember everything you said. Instead, use short sentences and pause, so the person can follow what you’re saying.


Don’t Treat Them Like a Child

Even when you’re using simple language or short sentences, you don’t need to talk to them in the same way as you would a small child. Don’t use a high-pitched tone or speak loudly. Use the same tone you would with any adult and be respectful in what you say and how you say it.

Make sure that whatever you say doesn’t come off as patronizing or insulting. It can be frustrating to try to talk to someone who doesn’t remember what you say or doesn’t understand what you want them to do. However, it’s important to be patient and remember that they are adults who deserve to be treated with dignity.


Expect Certain Issues

Even in the early stages of Alzheimer’s, the person will have some difficulty with conversation. Be prepared for this to happen so you won’t be caught off-guard. For instance, the person may repeat themselves or ask the same question over and over. You should repeat your answer and then direct them to another topic of conversation.

You may need to allow the person to think about their answer for a longer time. Don’t try to answer for them because they’re taking too long. If they don’t seem to understand what you’re saying, try phrasing it in a different way or using visual cues.


Maintain the Relationship

Even as the disease progresses and conversation becomes more difficult, communication is still important. You may need to change to speaking directly to them instead of asking questions. For instance, you could say, “I think cereal would be good for breakfast” rather than asking their opinion.

Speaking to the person is still just as important even if they cannot respond back. When you do need to ask a question, make it a “yes” or “no” question which is easier to answer. Speak to them in a place with minimal distractions. Turn off music or the TV so they can focus on one thing at a time.

Listen to the stories they tell from the old days even if you’ve heard them a million times. While they may not remember that they’ve told the story, the person is still communicating.

When the person moves into the later stage of Alzheimer’s, nonverbal communication becomes even more important. Touch their hand, give them a hug or kiss their cheek. You have to guide their reaction if they don’t remember you, but you can still communicate without words.

Communication is just as important for a person with Alzheimer’s as for any other elderly person. You just have to learn to adjust your conversation style to fit their needs.