How to Communicate Patiently with Alzheimer’s Sufferers
by Clare Evans
Alzheimer’s is a scary, lonely, and debilitating disease. It can have a huge and devastating effect on a sufferer and their family. Slowly watching someone you love lose every part of them that made them who they were is extremely painful; but take a moment to think about them.
They are bound to be confused and a little scared. Sure, communicating with them will be different and take patience; but that doesn’t mean you should give up altogether. You don’t need to shout, over-exaggerate your words, or use gesturers to describe things. You just need to treat an Alzheimer’s sufferer with patience, care, and love.
Here’s some advice to help you communicate patiently and effectively with an Alzheimer’s sufferer:
Introduce yourself. When visiting your friend or relative, always introduce yourself by name. “Positions” such as daughter, husband and friend can be confusing, and they can forget what this means. A name sounds much more familiar, and you might find your loved one recognises this; even if they have forgotten that you’re their child or partner.
Make eye contact. Using eye contact can foster trust, and help an Alzheimer’s sufferer feel more secure. Maintain this eye contact when you speak to them, and always use their name. This will make sure that their attention is always focused on you; something which is important when communicating with sufferers. You should also bear in mind that peripheral vision can deteriorate, so approach them face on to avoid startling them.
Tell then what you’re going to do before you do it. If you’re going to touch them, help them eat their dinner, or simply stand up and leave the room, let your loved one know. Sudden movements can scare them, and it will help them feel more comfortable if they know what’s coming.
Speak slowly and calmly. Shouting, getting stressed, and speaking at your normal pace are only going to leave Alzheimer’s sufferers confused. Instead, speak calmly and use and upbeat tone of voice. Be sure to speak in short sentence with only one idea in them, and speak at half your normal speed.
Observe their behaviour. People with Alzheimer’s will react extremely to physical stimuli. For example, some will react very positively to running their fingers over different textures. Others may not be able to stand being so tactile. This will give you clues to their behaviour, and help you communicate more effectively with them.
Avoid talking about throw-away things. Television programmes, modern music and other similar topics of conversation aren’t advisable when talking to Alzheimer’s sufferers. The chances are they won’t remember or understand, and will only leave them confused. Instead, people watch, gossip, or talk about topics that interest them. Be patient with them, and go along with their conversation topic.
Use positive phrases. Alzheimer’s sufferers can find it difficult to understand long sentences, so saying “Don’t go there” can be confusing. They will often drop the “don’t”, causing all sorts of confusion and misunderstanding. Instead, use positive phrases and say “Let’s go here” instead. This will help you communicate your message, and still keep your loved one calm and happy.
Keep questions to a minimum. When speaking to your loved one, only ask them one question at a time. This will give them time to form an answer, and get their point across. Never ask “why?” as this can be a stressful situation for an Alzheimer’s sufferer. You should always try and steer the conversation so they can share their stories with you, and talk about what makes them comfortable.
Focus on feelings, not facts. While facts may be hazy, emotions are clear and often more important than what is actually being said. Focus on the tone of voice, body language, and other actions to help you communicate with the. Encouraging non-verbal communication is also a good way to help them get their message across.
Be supportive and comforting. Even when communication is tough, let them know you’re listening and understand. Don’t interrupt, be patient, and offer a guess when they’re struggling for a word. Offer reassurances if communication is a challenge, by letting them know it’s okay and offering alternative ways to convey their thoughts.
Communicating with a loved one when they’re suffering from Alzheimer’s can be difficult. But by being patient, taking your time, and following these steps, you will find it much easier to have a conversation.
While you might not be able to talk about the things you used to, you can still have some sort of relationship with your loved one.
About the Author
Clare Evans is a copywriter with a degree and three years experience working in the field. Currently writing for Solihull Care, she has developed an expertise in health and elderly care topics. The company provides respite care for carers of people with dementia and Alzheimer’s. To find out more about their services, visit their website.