Communication can be one of the most challenging issues for people diagnosed with Alzheimer’s Disease and even other forms of dementia. It generally starts out slowly, but gradually deteriorates as the disease advances. For example, a person may forget a word, it’s on “the tip of their tongue”, so they end up describing what the article does. Changes that occur can depend on the individual, their education as well as the stage of the disease. However, one can expect to see similar challenges at different stages, while also seeing improvements or decreases in skills depending on illness or overall health status. Learning to communicate with your loved one takes patience, compassion, and good listening skills as well as the ability to pick up on non-verbal cues.
Let’s look at some tips that can help you and your loved one communicate more effectively.
Slow down and relax
First things first, relax, don’t hurry! One important key is to remain calm. Making your loved one as comfortable as possible, while minimizing frustration, is the goal of any conversation you have with them. Additionally, they may often be slower with processing or understanding information that is being given to them, as well as responding with their answers. Slow down and give them all the time they need, use shorter sentences, ask yes or no questions. If asking them to make a choice, give them two or three choices, not five. Show them compassion by allowing the conversation to flow wherever their words take them – meet them where they are, even if it means changing subjects totally. Avoid using phrases like “don’t you remember”, “I just told you that 5 minutes ago” – 5 minutes ago may no longer exist for them. If English is not their primary language, they may revert back to their native tongue. Use pictures to get information. Frustration can be common when communication is difficult, be reassuring and if need be re-direct your loved one to a different activity.
Pay attention to the surroundings. It is important that you know your loved one’s level of concentration has diminished, and their vision may have changed as well (especially in the later stages). They can easily lose their train of thought by seemingly minor distractions, such as other people moving about or a lot of background noise. Try to modify your voice so that it is easily heard if hearing aids are used make sure they are working well and at times, make sure that you are facing your loved one so that they can focus on your face, vocal tone, and expressions.
Be ready to introduce yourself to your loved one and allow them to get comfortable with you, recognize that they may pull away if they don’t know who you are. As difficult as that can be, they may think you are someone else – again, meet them where they are. For example, if you remind them you are not their husband, but instead their son, this can increase agitation – resulting them in wanting to go look for their husband. Comfort and soothe them when possible, talk to them about things that happened when they were younger, as their distant memory may be much better. Talk about their hobbies or if needed, you lead the conversation. For example: “I remember when…..” then fill in the blanks, you could even use old photos of those memories and events as tools.
Sometimes, a conversation is more than what is needed at that moment in time – holding hands, a light massage can be enough. Recognize their emotions, their frustrations as well as your own, you are on this journey together.
At Sundara, we can help guide you and your loved one, and of course, we welcome any suggestions or ideas you may have to help your family member with their memories while creating new ones for you to cherish.