How to speak so people with dementia and Alzheimer’s will listen
Learning how to talk to your loved ones suffering from Alzheimer’s or dementia is crucial for maintaining a healthy relationship. While the task is by no means easy, it is possible through practice and can be extremely rewarding. As these diseases progress from forgetfulness to radical changes in personality and functionality, a commitment to patience and listening becomes key. As dementias gradually reduce the effectiveness of a person’s ability to communicate, it is important to always remember your loved one is somewhere in there. With this guide of communication strategies, it becomes possible to to strengthen communication with your aging parent or grandparent.
Communicating in the early stages
In the early stages of Alzheimer’s and dementia, an individual can still engage in conversation and be present in a social context. However, they may begin repeating stories, struggle to find the right word and feel overwhelmed by social activity. It is important to remember that these diseases affect each individual differently. It is best not to make assumptions about their communication at this stage.
- Be sure to give your loved one lots of time to respond to your questions and to engage with you. Avoid finishing their sentences or interrupting.
- Speak to this person directly if you are curious to know what they are doing or how they are feeling. Avoid asking about them or speaking about them to a caregiver or family member if they can hear you.
Communicating in the middle stage
This stage of the disease is generally the longest, and can last up to many years. Your loved one will now have a more difficult time communicating.
- Try to stick to a topic. Avoid having complicated conversations that follow multiple trains of thought.
- Hold eye contact as best as you can. It shows that you care about what is being said and that you are actively listening.
- If you are having a conversation in person, it’s important to find a quiet, well lit place free of many distractions that might make focusing more difficult.
- Avoid open ended questions, and try “yes” or “no” answer questions instead and only ask one question at a time.
Communicating in the late stages
At this point, the person with dementia or Alzheimer’s may be relying on nonverbal communication. This includes facial expressions, sounds and hand gestures.
- Always approach them from the front so they can see you and aren’t startled. Be sure to identify yourself with a smile and a gentle voice.
- Encourage them to use nonverbal communication if you see they are more comfortable this way. Notice how sometimes the emotion behind the actions are often more important than what is actually being said.