Communicating with someone with Alzheimer's or dementia

If you're an Alzheimer's carer, improving communication can make a big difference to the quality of life of you and your loved one.

With Alzheimer’s the fear of losing the ability to express oneself evokes can be painful, and causes frustration both for the person experiencing it and their carer.  It’s impossible to fully prepare yourself for the emotional toll that gradually losing your language skills involves.  As the illness takes a hold the carer is forced to find alternative ways of communicating with their loved one.  This learning curve will require unending patience, tenderness and love.  But taking on board some practical communication techniques will go a long way towards facilitating the process and making it all much more bearable.  We’re sure the following tips will help you immensely:  

1. Avoid distractions.  This is especially important when it comes to carrying out ordinary activities like eating or getting ready to leave the house.  We recommend simple steps like turning off the telly and doing your best to ensure the atmosphere is as relaxed as possible.

2. Try to maintain eye contact.  Stand directly in front of your loved one, looking them straight in the eye and talk in a relaxed but direct way.  It is vitally important you radiate calm, trust and tranquillity.

3. Speak slowly and clearly.  Trust us - it’s much easier to get their attention if you speak in a calm, un-hurried manner than if you shout aggressively.  Although it may take extraordinary will-power, remain calm at all times, as losing your patience will only complicate matters.   

4. Don’t lose your sense of humour.  Take time to laugh together.  Enjoying life and looking for opportunities to laugh at the odd joke will help transform your house into a haven of peace and serenity.  Did you know that a good sense of humour is contagious?  Rest assured that if you, as a carer, do what you can to radiate harmony and optimism your loved one will soak up the positivity and start to feel better about life.

5. Don’t pressure them.  You’ll probably find that a lot of your questions go unanswered, especially if you’re asking him to try and remember something.  This will no doubt cause them a lot more stress than you, so don’t try to pressure them to come up with a quick answer.  Rather do your best to put them at ease and if you feel they’re unlikely to come up with an answer try to divert their attention with some less stressful activities.

6. Do your best to express yourself without words.  Facial expressions and body language are great when it comes to expressing yourself.  Gesturing, smiling and trying hard to be expressive will really help.  People with Alzheimer’s tend to pick up on facial expressions and body language better than actual words.  Smiling has the added bonus of sending signals to your brain telling it you’re happy – which, in turn, releases even more endorphins.  It’s a win–win situation!   

7. Keep your language simple.  Can you imagine how frustrating it must be to find yourself suddenly unable to do something you’ve done perfectly well all your life?  So the simpler, clearer and more concise your language is, the easier it will be to understand.  It’s also important to check you’ve been understood by using phrases like, “Ok, now we’re going to go over what we’ve said”. 

8. Be patient.  Be patient and repeat what you have to say as many times as necessary.  Has he not really understood?  Try explaining it in a different way – if at all possible using simpler language.  Smiling more and actively trying to give off ‘calm vibes’ will also help.  We know it’s all too easy to lose control as feelings of frustration are running high, but please believe us when we say that patience can be learnt.  And with time you’ll find you’re reacting patiently without even realising it.

9. Don’t treat them like a child.  She isn’t a child so don’t treat her like one.  Avoid scolding and shouting.  Never treat her as if she were a two year old.  Obviously we’re not saying you shouldn’t treat her with tenderness, but showing affection doesn’t involve patronising with childish language or treating her as if she were a child with no experience in the real world.  She’s got a life-time of experience and whether you realise it or not, a lot of the time she’s aware of the fact that she’s struggling to behave like a mature adult and it pains her.

10. Always say ‘thank you’.  This is a great way to reward behaviour you want to encourage.  Without being patronising, praise him when he uses his initiative to get something done on his own.  It’s a great way to build up his self-esteem and help give him a feeling of self-worth.

Alzheimer's, Wellbeing, Symptoms, Diagnosis, Psychological aspects, Parents, Children, Relationships

Author: Purificación Salgado, Journalist

Last Modification: December 1, 2016

© People Who Global,

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