Language and conversational skills can deteriorate with the progression of Alzheimer ’s disease which can make communication tricky at times. It is good to be aware of and sensitive to these changes and alter our communication style accordingly. Here are a few helpful strategies to have on hand to encourage positive interactions with someone who has Alzheimer’s or dementia.
1.Get their attention first
Always approach the person from the front, call them by name and introduce yourself to get their attention and establish a sense of comfort and familiarity. Catching a person with Alzheimer’s “off guard” or startling them from behind can cause a negative reaction and make them nervous, edgy or agitated, which is not what we want. Communicating in a quiet environment also improves attention – turn off the T.V. or radio, or move to a quiet room with less noise and distractions.
2.Use short, simple sentences
Keep your phrases short and sweet and stick to one idea or topic in your sentences. Give instructions one step at a time as opposed listing multiple tasks in a row. You also may need to focus on enunciating your words and slowing down your rate of speech, but do not use “baby talk” as this can be demeaning and frustrating for the individual. Ask your questions one at a time and try not to use open-ended questions as these are difficult to answer. Instead, provide a choice (Would you like to have ice cream or pie for dessert?), or ask questions that can be answered with a simple “yes” or “no”.
3.Sharpen your non-verbal communication skills
We not only respond to “what” is said, we respond to “how” it is being said and we remember how we “feel” during the conversation. As a person with Alzheimer’s or dementia slowly loses their ability to communicate with words, they still respond to the non-verbal aspects of communication and can relate to others on an emotional level. Try to use gestures (shaking or nodding your head), pointing at places and things, and hand signals (thumbs up/down) when speaking as much as possible. Be aware of negative non-verbal communication gestures like crossing your arms in front of you, furrowing your brow in frustration, or using a negative tone of voice. These signals will be picked up by someone with Alzheimer’s and may elicit an uneasy or agitated reaction. Remember to make good eye contact and have a friendly, open expression on your face – a warm smile and a gentle touch go a long way.
4.Be Specific – use your nouns
It is always best to be very specific when communicating and provide as much detail as possible. Use first names as opposed to using pronouns in a conversation. Say “I spoke to your sister, Margaret today”, instead of “I spoke to her today”. Also, remember to identify objects specifically in your sentences. Try saying “pick up your brown shoes beside the bed”, instead of “pick them up”. This strategy will prove to be very effective.
5.Exercise patience and flexibility
When caring for with someone who has Alzheimer’s you know that nothing stays the same. What works one day or one minute, might not work the next. Speak to others about their experiences to determine what works for them in terms of communicating with their loved-ones, and add these strategies to your own personal “bag of tricks”. Seek support from local chapters of the Alzheimer’s Society (www.alzheimer.ca) as they provide a wealth of information and may prove to be helpful to you throughout this journey. Above all else, try to retain your sense of humour and connection with the person within the “disease” and focus on the positive moments you share together.
It can be very difficult to know how to best communicate with a loved one, friend or patient who suffers from Alzheimer’s or dementia. Using these tips, the conversation will go better for both of you.
Source: Adapted from https://www.caring.com/articles/how-to-communicate-with-alzheimers-patients