When someone is living with Alzheimer’s or another type of dementia, language will become less reliable for communication as the disease progresses.
People with dementia may misunderstand what is being said; they may substitute a word with one that has another meaning entirely. They may have difficulties finding a word to the point where they cannot begin to formulate a sentence.
Eventually, most people with Alzheimer’s disease will become non-verbal. However, it is important to remember that language skills are affected differently for everyone who experiences Alzheimer’s, as each person has a unique progression through the disease.
In order to communicate effectively with a loved one who has dementia, keep the following tips in mind.
Speak in a clear, straightforward manner.
Show respect. Avoid secondary baby talk and diminutive phrases, such as “good girl.” Don’t assume that your loved one can’t understand you, and don’t talk about your loved one as though he or she weren’t there.
Show interest. Maintain eye contact, and stay near your loved one so that he or she will know that you’re listening and trying to understand.
Avoid distractions. Communication may be difficult — if not impossible — against a background of competing sights and sounds.
Keep it simple. Use short sentences and plain words. Ask yes-no questions, and ask only one question at a time. Break down tasks or requests into single steps.
Don’t interrupt. It may take several minutes for your loved one to respond. Avoid criticizing, hurrying and correcting.
Use visual cues. Sometimes gestures or other visual cues promote better understanding than words alone. Rather than simply asking if your loved one needs to use the bathroom, for example, take him or her to the toilet.
Don’t argue. Your loved one’s reasoning and judgment will decline over time. To spare anger and agitation, don’t argue with your loved one.
Stay calm. Even when you’re frustrated, keep your voice gentle. Your nonverbal cues, including the tone of your voice, may send a clearer message than what you actually say.
Communicating with your loved one may be challenging, especially as the disease progresses. Remember, however, your loved one isn’t acting this way on purpose. Don’t take it personally. Use patience and understanding to help your loved one feel safe and secure.
For more information or to sign up for free care consultations, education classes or support groups in English or Spanish, visit the Alzheimer’s Association California Central Coast Chapter at 2580 E Main Street #201 or call the 24/7 Helpline at 800.272.3900.