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6 Communication Tips When Speaking to Someone with Alzheimer’s Disease

The ability to communicate is a skill we learned from a young age, much like riding a bike or tying our shoes. However, unlike those previous examples, communication isn’t some skill that we learn once and never have to work at it again. There are numerous scenarios that require different approaches to communication in order to have a much more effective conversation, based on who we are talking to. It’s no secret that you communicate differently with your friends than you do with your parents; you communicate differently with little kids than you do with older adults. It’s not a one-size fits all kind of skill.

This is also true when communicating with a loved one who has Alzheimer’s disease. Your conversation with them needs to be much more precise and on point than a conversation you would have with someone such as a long-term friend. In order to accomplish this and to have greater communication skills when talking with someone who has Alzheimer’s disease, read the following tips below.

Limit Distractions

When talking with a loved one who has Alzheimer’s disease, it’s important to find an environment that is limited in distractions. If you’re in the living room and the TV is at full volume, it’s going to be very difficult to maintain their focus. The same goes for the radio or a stereo playing their favorite music. It’s true that music therapy is great for Alzheimer’s or dementia patients, but it’s not good to have it going on the background when you’re trying to have a conversation with someone. Make sure that all surrounding electronic devices are off or their volume is lowered before starting your conversation.

Use Full Names

One of the worst aspects about Alzheimer’s is that your loved one may begin to forget names and faces. Your own mother or father may not recognize you when you start to talk with them. However, do not be discouraged. Instead, make sure you’re using full names. Don’t refer to yourself as their son or daughter. That might not mean anything to them. It’s also important, if you’re referring to a sibling, to use their full name, too. It’s much better to use a proper name than a word that describes one’s relationship to the person with Alzheimer’s. A proper name resonates better in the brain, especially if you’re just using pronouns like him or her.

Be Clear

If communication becomes difficult in the middle of a conversation, you might find yourself participating in “baby talk” with your loved one. It’s best to refrain from doing so. In general, it’s always good to speak clearly and in full sentences. There’s nothing wrong with trying to keep the conversation simple, but baby talk adds a level of condescension that your loved one may not appreciate. Speak slowly and clearly but not in a way that it can be insulting.

Use Nonverbal Cues

Eye contact and a smile can go a long way in any kind of conversation. It’s even more crucial when you’re talking to someone with Alzheimer’s disease. Your loved one may not understand every word coming out of your mouth, but non-verbal cues can still help when it comes to facilitating understanding. A brief hand gesture to an object they can’t quite seem to name or a simple smile can drastically change the tone of the conversation or your loved one’s mood.

Keep It Simple

Someone with Alzheimer’s disease will have a hard time keeping track of multiple subjects in one conversation. That’s why it’s a good idea to keep it simple. Keep the conversation pertaining to one subject at a time. This will make it easier for your loved one to follow along and participate in an active conversation, which is great exercise for their mind.

Be Patient

You’re going to have to realize that there will be good days and there will be bad days. Sometimes it might be difficult to get a word out of your loved one during conversation. Other days he or she may be completely active and looking to converse. When the two of you are experiencing those bad days, it’s important to practice patience. The very last thing you want to do is to have a short temper when communicating with a person who has Alzheimer’s disease. Yes, it’s frustrating to have to repeat yourself. Yes, it’s disheartening to have a loved one forget your name. However, it’s more important that you’re there for them. Your agitation will only cause them to be agitated. Keep that frustration in check and make sure your loved one is having a productive day.

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